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From a photograph taken on board the Niger Coast Protectorate 
Yacht while the King was on his way to exile. 


Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 




OF TASMANIA " (2nd edition), " the natives of Sarawak and 




F. KING & SONS, Ltd, 








X viii 

Line 6, for Gallway read : Gallw^y 

Foot Note, for Ammonium paradtsi read: Ammomum paradisii 

Foot Note, last line for trade read : Trade 

Fig. 44, for Armlets read : Armlet 

Foot Note (2), first line, for Yoruda read : Yoruba 

Fig. 145. Fvntumia read : Fiintumia 

Bottom line but one, for hugh read : huge 

Line 4, Parenthesis should be in place of comma 

Line 16, for on an article read : of an article 

Bottom line, for Pit-Rivers read : Pitt-Rivers 


At the time of the destruction of the city of Great Benin, we seemed to 
know very little about the city or the country, but its capture caused us 
to seek out what had once been known and long since forgotten. Our ignorance 
was due partly to the fact that Benin was, from the time of the first discovery, 
a decaying city off the great high-roads of European commerce, and partly to 
the obstacles placed in the way of Europeans getting there, by the natives, 
a difficulty in which the unhealthy nature of the country came to the aid of 
the blackman. The first Dutch chronicler tells us: "A man might write more 
about this town if he were allowed to see it, as you may our towns at home ; but 
this is not permitted here, but is forbidden and prevented by one who is always 
given to attend upon you, to go with you, to show you the right way, so that no 
one is allowed to go alone through the town, which they say is because a stranger 
should not lose his way, but nevertheless one may not go boldly just as one pleases." 
And this prohibition with regard to the visits of Europeans continued in force until 
the very last. Whether such obstacles were due to the fear of the denunciation of 
human sacrifices and all their attendant horrors, or whether the ruling chiefs rightly 
feared that once a European got a footing he would soon become master of the 
country, as he has an awkward way of doing, matters little now ; but if a city ever 
deserved its fate, that city was the city of Great Benin. At the same time, while we 
cannot avoid feelings of regret that an interesting old town and its old-world institutions 
should have been destroyed, the horrors which met the Punitive Expedition, when 
it entered the sacred precincts, showed that the little war we waged was justified 
beyond all expectation. 

For an account of the impression the city produced on a European I cannot 
do better than quote the words of my friend Mr. Cyril Punch : 

" Benin has an extraordinary fascination for me which I cannot explain. Having 
spent twenty years in the Niger Delta and Lagos back country, and visited most of 
the places from Bariba to Old Calabar, and surveyed them from the points of view 
of trader, planter, and official, I can remember no place which stirs up the feelings 
which the mention of Benin does. Looking back now, with later experiences of 
official visits to out of the way corners, with one's police or Haussa escort to take 
care of one, those wierd visits to Benin City simply stand by themselves. 

Preface. vii 

"All the rest of West Africa that I know is s(iualid. Squalor is just the one 
idea that strikes one. Benin in the old days was more than squalid, it was gruesome. 
What the exact influence of the place was, or rather what the cause was of the 
influence felt, I cannot say, but the fact remains that no one who went there in the 
old days came away without being impressed. 

" It may be that Benin, through foreign influence growing from a negro into a 
civilised town long ago and reverting to type, really gives the place its interest. One 
was always stumbling across traces of a deceased civilization akin to our own, yet 
nothing in negro nature is really akin to us. 

" As a town, Benin was inconsiderable compared with places like Ibadan, 
Iseyhin, Shaki, Modakeke, and Abeokuta. There was no wealth, nor was there 
even power, except the power of the influence of fetish, and the sense of the spirit 
of a long past of atrocities, which, if not supernatural, were at any rate unnatural to 
a degree which is indescribable. I remember the return of two of Miller Brothers' 
men from a visit they paid to Benin after I had been there. They arrived at 
Guatun one evening, and showed plainly in their faces the mental strain that their 
visit had been to them." 

In the preparation of this work I am indebted to Mr. C. H. Read for his courteous 
permission to make use of the exhibits in the British Museum for illustrations, and to 
the Council of the Anthropological Institute for the use of the blocks of the plaques in 
the British Museum, from the paper by Messrs. Read and Dalton in the Journal of that 
Institute. The photographs by Mr. Granville were kindly taken for me with a camera 
I supplied him with immediately after the war. To Mr. Heawood, Librarian of the 
Royal Geographical Society, I owe many thanks for assistance in hunting up the 
records of the French traders after the time of the Dutch. Dr. Forbes, Director of 
the Liverpool Museum, I have to thank for permission to illustrate some of the Bini 
articles under his care, and to Mr. J. Batalha-Reis, Portuguese Consul-General, I 
owe thanks for assistance in obtaining information from the old Portuguese 
chroniclers. To Mr. Jas. R. Boose, Librarian of the Royal Colonial Institute, 
Mr. John Holt of Liverpool, and Mr. Jas. Irvine of Liverpool, I likewise owe thanks 
for the loan of books. Most of all am I indebted to Mr. Cyril Punch, who has been 
so good as to revise the information I had collected, and who, besides supplying me 
with valuable notes and sketches, has at the same time allowed me to choose for 
publication some of the most interesting of the many photographs he had taken 
while in the Bini country. The reader will have no difficulty in gauging and 
appreciating the large amount of his assistance, which was given at all times 
frankly and cheerfully. 




Preface ... ... ... ... ... v 

Contents ... ... ... ... ... viii 

List of Illustrations ... ... ... ... ix 

Err.vj'a ... ... ... ... ... iv 


The First Chroniclers and the Discovery ... ... i 

The Appearance of the People ... ... ... 17 


Childbirth and Marriage ... ... ... ... 35 

Burial ... ... ... ... ... ... 41 


Character ... ... ... ... ... 45 

Fetish and Kindred Observances ... ... ... 48 


Punishments & Ordeals ... ... ... ... 85 

Government ... ... ... ... ... gi 


Inheritance ... ... ... ... ... 97 


Slavery ... ... ... ... ... 103 


Court Life and Etiquette ... ... ... ... 107 

War and Weapons ... ... ... ... 125 

Trade, Industry, Farming, Fishing, Hunting ... ... 131 


Food, Domestic Animals, Fermented Drinks, Water ... 147 




Music and Games 



The City and its Buildings 

Carved Work 

The Metal Castings 










The Treaty between the King of Benin and Capt. Gallwey, 

D.S.O. ... ... ... ... ... i 


A Diary of a Surgeon with the Benin Punitive Expedition 

BY F. N. Roth, M.R.C.S. ... ... ... ii 


The Surrender and Trial of the King 



On the British Loss of Antique Works of Art from Benin xviii 


Land Tenure and Inheritance in Yoruba, by Cyril Punch 



Frontispiece - - King Overami. 

Fig. I. Bronze Plaque : European out Shooting 

2. do. do. : Bearded European 

3. do. do. : European armed with Matchlock 

4. do. do. : European armed with Matchlock and Sword 
5-7. Bronze Statuette: European Soldier, Sword and Rapier 

8. D.R.'s Illustrations of Head Dressing 

9. Coral Beads. . 

10. do. Bead Network Cap 

11. do. do. Fly whisk .. 

12. do. do. Apron 

13. 14. Bronze Heads 





23. 25 











41, 42. 

43-45. 46 


47. 48. 
















70 . , 






77. 7S- 

79. 80. 








97. 98. 







-31,37. Bracelets 
Flat Ring . . 

Ring, double crossed . . . . ^ 


Whistle (?) . . 
Gilt Metal Shell 
Ivory Armlets 
. Brass Armlets 
Copper Armlet 

Two Views of Small Brass Mask . . 
Brass Bottle. . 
Bronze Bracelet 
Bronze Plaque : Fetish King 

do. do. : Fetish Chief (?) . . 
do. do. : Fetish King 
Seal of Abraxos 
Crucifixion Trees 
Human Entrails on Altar 

Bronze Casting : Vultures devouring Beheaded Victims 
Bronze Execution Staff. . 
Bronze Execution Tube 
Bronze Stand 
Kruboy saved from Pits 
Bronze Plaque : Chief holding Ebere 

Brass Figures holding Ebere and Execution Staff 
Juju Altar with Human Skulls 

do. with Inlaid Plates 
Wooden Head covered with Thin Brass 
Altar with Wands and Pots 

Wood Rattle for calling Attention of Spirit invoked 
Bronze Bells 
Earthenware Pots 
Bronze Rattle 
Metal Pot 

The Malaku's House in Gwato 
Juju Altar in King's Compound 
Three Bronze Heads 
Bronze Head 

Sketch Plan to illustrate a Fetish Ceremony . . 
Cat-fish Ornamentation 

Plan of Benin River, showing Sphere of Water Spirit 
Various Forms of Fetish Snakes . . 
Bronze Plaque : Ukoba (or King's boys) 
King's Mark. . 
Two Views Bronze Object 

Sketch to show how Tusk measured to pay for a Slave 
Double Gourd Qui\cr . . 
Bronze Statuette 
Bronze Plaque : Gentleman on horseback 

do. do. : Chief and Attendants with Shields (Fan 
D.R.'s Gourd Rattle 
Court Fan 
Bronze Group 
Base Relief of Fig. 105 
Bronze Plaque : Chief with Kneeling Attendants 


28, 29, 30 

•• 3^. 33 

5^. ^2' 54 

.. 67 








13, 114. 
15, 116, 




28, 129, 

31. 132 

33. 134. 
















Bronze Plaque : Chief with Attendants and Shields and Ebere 
Brass Double Bell Form 
do Figure with Double Bell Form 
Brass Enchased Stool . . 
Copper Polished Stool , . 
Applifjud Work on Brass Stool 
Wooden Kola Nut Box . . 

do. do. do. 
Bronze Ornamental Ada 
Position in which Official Cutlass was held 
Bronze Plaque : Official striking a Sistrun 
Bronze Lamp Ladle 

Designs on Rims of Hand Lamp (Fig. 126) 
Sketch Plan to illustrate Scene at Court 
Small Standard Lamp 
Large do. do. . . 

Hand Lamp . . 

Bronze Plaque 
Jekri Fan 
Metal Wands 
INEetal Powder Flasks 
Bronze Plaque : Bringing in a Prisoner 

do. do. : Warrior 

do. do : Noble . . 
Ivory Armlet : Soldier with Bow . . 
Powder Keg (?) . . 

Ornamentation on Fig. 139 

Sketch Plan of Markets 
Bronze Plaque : Traders with Manillas 
Market Women's Ttrx . . 
Oboba Stream 
Native Group 

Details of Fig. 151 
Bronze Plaque : Crocodile's Head . . 

do. do. : Native with curious Hair Dressing 
Abodoagmo and Family 
Sketch plan of D.R.'s Broad Street 
Scene in Benin City 
View of do, do. 
Box with Shingled Roof 
High Pitched Shingled Roof 
Street in Benin City 
King's Wall . . 
House in Course of Erection 
Ruined House 

Outside Corner of King's Compound 
Wall with Clay Figures in Relief . . 
House Wall . . 

Section and Plan of Wall and Roof Timbers 
View of Benin City 
do. do. 

do. Ese Ado 
Plan of a Banyang Compound 







XI 1 


ig. 176. 

Timbuktu Mosque 

.. 177- 

Town of Segou 

.. 178. 

Bonduku Habitation . . . . 

.. 179- 

Salaga Mosque 

,, 180. 

Sketch Plan of King's Compound . . 

. 181. 

Plan of a Labadie Habitation 

., 182- 


Sections and Elevations of Fig. 181 

., 185. 

Sketch Plan of typical Benin House 

,. 186, 


Ivory Door Bolts 

., 188. 

Door in use . . 

., 189. 

Door Key and Bolt 

.. 191. 

Jekri Village, - 

,, 192. 

Section of Ditch 

.. 193- 

Ruined Doorway 

.. 194- 


Carved Tusks 

., 196- 


Carvings on Tusks 


Carved Double Cat-fish 

,, 2og- 


Carved Ivory Staff 

,, 213, 


Carved Ivory Masks 

,. 215. 

Carved Ivory Leopard Mask 

,, 216. 

Ivory Statuette 

,, 217. 

Sobo Wooden Fetish 

., 218. 

Ivory Statuette 

., 219. 

do. do. 

,, 220 

Carved Ivory Box 

,. 221- 


Carved Ivory Amulets . . 

.. 224, 


Carved Ivory Sistrum . . 

,, 226- 


do. do. do. 

,. 229- 


Carved Coconut 

-. 233- 


Pressure Drum and details 

.. 237 

Carved Coconut 

.. 238- 


do. do. 

,. 242 

Top of Staff . . 

-. 243 


Casket and Ornamentation 

.. 245 

Looking-Glass Door Frame 

>. 246 

Ivory Group . . 

.. 247 

Carving on Elephant Tusk 

.. 248 

Ivory Stopper 

,. 249 


Ivory Armlet. . 

.- 253 

Bronze Head 

.. 254 

Bronze Cock . . 

.. 255 

Bronze Figures of Dwarfs 

,. 256 

Brass Jug 

.. 257 

Staff Head . . . , . . 

.. 258 

Bronze Leopard 

. 259 

Bronze Head of Horseman 

>. 260 

, 261 

. Brass Sistrum 

,, 262 

Double Bell Form 

,. 263 

Brass Casket . . 

.. 264 


Details of Fig. 2C3 

,, 267 

Bronze Vase . . 

„ 268 

Bronze ALgis. . 

., 269 

Degenerate Elephants Head and Trunk 

,. 270 

Plaque : Cat-fish 

,. 271 

Bronze Morion 

>. 272 

Bronze Group : Women . . 

.. 273 

do. : do. . . 

.. 274 

Paying homage 

.. 275 

Bronze Armlet (?) 


. 183 

.. 183 

,. 183 

,. 183 


.. 185 




. . 18; 






194. 195 

202, 203 

208, 209 

211, 212 

227, 228 



I. The First Chroniclers — Ruy de Pina — Garcia de Rezende — Joao de Barros — Antonio Galvano — 

Pecheco Pereira — The unknown Dutchman D.R — Peter de Marees — Arthus — De Bry — 
Windam — Pinteado — John Bird and his Company (2) — DeCarli — Sorrento — Fathers Francis and 
FiUp — Dapper — Blomert — Nyendael — Barbot — Landolphe (Quesne) — Legroing and Balon 
(Labarthe) (3) — Palisot de Beauvais — King — Belzoni — Adams — Fawckner — Moffat and Smith — 
Burton — Jacolliot — Cheetham and Clarke — C. Punch — Gallway — The massacre — The Punitive 
Expedition (4) — Roupell's Chiefs — Various pubUcations. 

II. The Discovery — Gomez — Sequeira — Aveiro's description of city — Guinea pepper — Benin Am- 

bassadors (5) — Missionaries despatched to Benin — Factory estabhshed at Gwato — Prester John's 
Crucifix — Size of Gwato and Benin — Fetishism — Juju — Bini face mark — Trading — Neighbouring 
peoples (6) — Large canoes — The Ijos, or Jos, Cannibals — Salt — Trading — Slaves — Elephant 
Tusks — Friendship with the Portuguese — Church built in Benin — List of Kings — Average 
reign (7) — Warri and Benin formerly one state — First king came from Yoruba — his conquests — 
the slave Ubini (8) — Native account of arrival of white men (9) — Their trade — Settlement at 
Gwato — No white women — Dapper on the extent of the kingdom (11) — Description of country — 
Water provided on the routes^Mythical people (12) — Barbot, Landolphe and Burton on the 
extent of the kingdom — Landers' references to Benin (13) — Population (14) — Cause of decay — 
Civil war — Vestiges of Christianity — Crucifixes (15) — Native crucifixion derived from the 
Holy Cross — Missionaries reprove the king — White woman marries king of Warri — Church — 
Relics of forgotten ceremonies. 


Our authorities for the early days of Benin City, or Great Benin, are Ruy de Pina 
(1440-1523, Chronica de D. Joao II.) ; Garcia de Rezende (1470-1554), whose 
account is a repetition of de Pina; Joao de Barros (1496-1570, Da Asia,) 
whose records are evidently based on de Pina ; Antonio Galvano (Tradado, 
Lisboa, 1563); and Duarte Pecheco Pereira (Esmiraldo de Situ Orbis, 1505-1520). 
Ruy de Pina, Garcia de Rezende and Pecheco Pareira were contemporaries of the 
discovery of the city. De Barros wrote in 1539 onwards, or more than fifty years 
afterwards, and is considered the greatest authority on Portuguese, African and 
Asiatic travels of his time ; he resided for three years in S. George of the Mine 
(Elmina) not so very far from Benin. ^ After the Portuguese, we have the Dutch 
and other chroniclers commencing with the unknown Dutchman D.R., whose 
account of Benin, frequently ascribed to Pieter de Marees, if not to the translator 
Arthus, appears in De Bry, which I have made use of in the Frankfurt edition, 6th 
part, 1604.^ 

Then we have Windam who went out to Africa and visited Benin in 1553 
(Hakluyt ii., 2nd pt., p. 12). He was accompanied by Francisco Pinteado and 

1 For this list of authorities and for translations from their works, I am indebted to my learned 
friend Mr, J. Batalha-Reis, the Portuguese Consul-General in London. 

"^ Pieter de Marees addressed letters to his uncle Jan Sandra, a merchant in Amsterdam ; he 
belonged to an expedition of two vessels which left Holland November 1600, and returned 21st March, 
1602. The description of Benin is by D.R. and not by P. de M. ; see Tiele, Memoire Bibliographique 
(p. 152). 

2 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

Nicholas Lambert, and does not seem to have well treated Pinteado, who died out 
there. After them the next record is of John Bird, John Newton, Jas. Welsh, 
Anthonie Ingram, Thos. Hemsted, Sam Dunne, Benson, and W. Bird, who left 
London for Benin in February, 1588; the survivors of this party made a second 
voyage to Benin in February, 1590 (ibid, p. 128). We have after this a Capuchin 
named Denis de Carli mentioned (Churchill L, p. 578) as invalided home to Lisbon 
in 1666-7, where he shortly died, and " who had been 16 years in Africk either in the 
aforesaid Island St. Thomas, or the Kingdom of Benin and Overola." Then we 
have a reference by Merolla da Sorrento (Churchill II., p. 676) to Fathers Francis 
de Romano and Filip da Figuar, who were in Benin about 1682 to 1688. The next 
writer was Dr. Olfert Dapper (Nauwkeurige Beschrijvinge der Afrikaansche 
Gewesten, Amsterdam, 1668) whose work was followed by that of D. v. Nyendael 
(in Bosman's Nauwkeurige Beschrijvinge van de Guinese, Utrecht, 1704). There are 
other bare references here and there, but it appears to me that much of the accounts 
of Benin published from the time of Nyendael to the nineteenth century is more or 
less copied from Dapper. In the preface to his work, Bosman throws doubt on 
Dapper's statements ; Nyendael does so likewise, plainly stating that Dapper never 
was in Benin, which is quite true. Nyendael's description of the city is very fair, 
but Dapper gives a much fuller description including much detail about the sacrifices, 
and there are descriptions in his account not mentioned by other chroniclers, but 
which have been confirmed by members of the British Punitive Expedition. Dapper's 
work appeared in 1668 (second edition, 1676), and in 1670, John Ogilby published 
his celebrated work ''Africa," of which the portion relating to Benin is taken from 
Dapper.^ In the preface Dapper says he obtained much information about the 
country between Cape Verde and the Kingdom of Lovango from the writings of 
Samuel Blomert, handed him by the historian Isaak Vossius ; he mentions that 
Blomert's account was very full, containing a large amount of information not 
previously recorded. Blomert he tells us lived several years in Africa. Dapper 
himself did not visit Africa. Who this Sam. Blomert was is not clear.^ 

After Nyendael we have Jean Barbot (A Description of the Coasts of North and 
South Guinea, '^c, London, fol. 1732) who copies Dapper without acknowledgment, 
but with additions of his own for which he gives no authority. He was a Hugenot, 
and before coming to England was Agent General of the Royal Company of Africa 
and Islands in America, at Paris. His biographer (Biographic Universelle) says he 
was too busy compiling the works of others to insert his own experiences. But if he had 
ever been in Benin, he would probably have said so. The next recorded visitor was 
Captain J. F. Landolphe, a gallant Frenchman who got so far as the Benin or For- 
mosa River in 1769, and did not go up to Benin until 1778, after which date he made 
repeated visits. (Memoires du Capitaine Landolphe . . . rediges sur son Manuscrit, 
par J. S. Quesne, Paris, 2 vols., 8vo. 1823). Unfortunately Quesne appears to have 
mutilated his friend's MS. so that the narrative is not quite so reliable as could be 
wished. On one occasion in 1787, Landolphe took up with him to Benin two fellow 

1 In the following pages, all extracts from Dapper are taken from a translation from the 
Dutch which I have had specially made for this work. It is curious that in the second edition of 
Dapper's work the plates have English as well as Dutch descriptions, and the identical plates 
appear m Ogilby. I have not had an opportunity of seeing and comparing a first edition. 

2 In A. J. van der Aa's Biographisch Woordenbock der Nederlanden. Harlem, 1853, there is 
only one reference to a Sam. Blommart (Bloemart), a man who distinguished himself in Java and 
then seems to have been lost sight of. 

The First Chvoniclevs and Discovery. 3 

countrymen, Legroing and Balon, who were sent up by de Flotte, the latter being too 
ill to proceed (P. Labarthe, Voy. a la Cote de Guinee, Paris, 1803). A friend of 
Landolphe's was Palisot de Beauvais, the botanist, who also visited Benin (Notice 
sur le Peuple de Benin, in the Decade Philosophique, No. 12, Annee g, 1801). 
Beauvais who wrote the Flore d'Oware et de Benin (Paris 1840) gave the name 
Landolphia to the plants from which rubber is now obtained. Lieut., afterwards Com- 
mander, John King, E.N. must have visited Benin between the years 1815 and 1821. 
(O'Byrne's Naval Biography, Lond. 1849). He saw much service on the Coast and 
it is strange that his account ot Benin should only be known in its French garb 
(Jour, des Voy., vol. xiii. Paris, 1823). In the meanwhile Belzoni, an Italian and a well- 
known explorer in Egypt, got as far as Gvvato, where he died on 3rd Dec, 1823, and the 
wooden tablet on his grave was fast going to decay in 1838. After him, we have 
Capt. John Adams (Remarks on the Country from Cape Palmas to the the River 
Congo, Lond., 1823). Capt. Jas. Fawckner, who was wrecked on the coast, visited 
the city in 1825 (Travels on the Coast of Benin, London 1837), and was followed 
in 1838 by Moffatt and Smith, surgeons to Mr. Jamieson's schooner, the Warree 
(Jour. Roy. Geogr. Soc, 1841). Then the famous traveller. Captain (afterwards Sir) 
Richard Burton visited the city in 1862, and left us long descriptions of that visit, 
and of the place (Fraser's Magazine, Feb., Mar. and April, 1863). After Burton, 
the next record is that of a M.Jacolliot (Voyages aux Rivers du Niger, Paris, 1878) 
whose own account of his doings at the court had better been left unpublished ; 
he tells us practically nothing of the city. 

The traders Samuel Cheetham, Hugh Crawford Clarke, and Henry were at 
Guatun [Gwato] and Benin in the early sixties. Clarke wrote a pamphlet on his trip, 
but it was probably privately printed. 

In 1885, a party consisting of Clarke, Hilliard, Coxon and Henderson went to 
Gwato with Vice-Consul Blair en route for Benin. Blair had fever, and the party 
returned without going to Benin. Blair died in Benin river the day after they 
returned. The Jekri people said he had been poisoned, but he died of simple 
hypevpevexia. The Jekri had a most profound fear of the Binis' knowledge and use 
of poisons. In 1888, a party consisting of Bleasby, Bey, Farquhar, and perhaps 
others, went to Benin, but becoming impatient at vexatious delays, returned without 
seeing the king at all. In i88g, C. Punch paid his first visit taking Powis with 
him. He paid many visits after; on one occasion McNaught a doctor in Benin river 
went with him, and on another Vice-Consul Annesley and Bleasby. In 1890, 
Paton and Ochterton paid a visit to Benin, and later on, some others of Miller Bros., 

The last visitor who recorded his visit before the Massacre, is Capt. Gallwey 
(Geogr. Jour, ii., 1893). Capt Gallwey made a treaty with the King of Benin which 
was not adhered to, and not only did the king lay obstacles in the way of trade, but 
he also continued his customary massacres of slaves. Several British officers made 
attempts at various times to get into Benin territory, but they were invariably met 
by armed forces, and as they were under strict instructions not to come to blows, they 
had in every case to retire. Towards the end of the year 1897, Vice-Consul Phillips, 
of the Niger Coast Protectorate, determined on a peaceful mission to Benin. This 
was in the absence of the Consul-General, Major Moore. Mr. Phillips, who had not 
been long in the country, appears to have been badly advised with regard to the 
expediency of the proposed mission. Messengers were sent to the King of Benin 
advising him of the coming of the white men. The answers received were not favour- 

4 Great Benin — Us Customs, Art and Hovvovs. 

able, and local chiefs, especially the two well-known chiefs, Dore and Dudu, begged 
Phillips not to proceed. However, on the 2nd January, 1897, the Mission, completely 
2/;zarmed so as not to arouse any fears or suspicion in the minds of the natives or the 
King, left Sapele, and on the 4th January it started from Gwato. A few hours after- 
wards, with the exception of Mr. Locke and Capt. Boisragon, all the white men, seven 
in number, were massacred, together with a very large proportion of their Jekri and 
Kruboy carriers. A full description of this disaster is given by Capt. Boisragon 
(The Benin Massacre, London, 1897). After this, the British Government was of 
course obliged to interfere, and under the command of Admiral Sir Harry Rawson, 
the Punitive Expedition was sent out. By the 17th of February the city of Benin 
was captured, and it was afterwards unfortunately destroyed by a conflagration which 
the soldiery was unable to stem. This Expedition has been described by Com- 
mander R. H. Bacon (The City of Blood, London, 1897). 

In addition to the publications referred to above, a collection of notes of special 
interest was obtained by Captain Roupell in 1898, from the following chiefs: — 
Ariyo, Court Historian; Eseri, Ossa, Osuon, all Jujumen; IhoUo ii.. Master Wood 
Carver, and Ine, Master Ivory Carver. These notes were kindly placed at my 
disposal at the time by Sir Ralph Moor, Consul-General and Administrator-General 
of the then Niger Coast Protectorate. I made use of them in my paper on Benin 
Customs (Internationales Archiv f. Ethnographic, 1898), and they have since been 
published in full by Messrs. Read & Dalton, in their important work (The Antiquities 
of Benin, London, 1899). Another important work (Antique Works of Art from Benin), 
was published by General Pitt Rivers (privately printed) just before his death in 1900. 
Prof. von. Luschan has published several papers of which, as he is preparing a big 
work on the subject, I need not mention any specially except Die Karl Knorrsche 
Sammlung von Benin Alterthiimer, Stuttgart, 1901. Other writers on the subject 
are Dr. J. Brinckmann, Dr. F. Carlsen, Dr. H. O. Forbes, Dr. Karl Hagen, Dr. 
Eraser Heger, Mr. R. Quick, and Prof. Fred. Star. My various fugitive papers on 
Benin subjects are incorporated in the present work. 


In 1469, King Affonso V. of Portugal contracted with Fernao Gomez to discover 
one hundred leagues of coast every year for five years, starting from Serra Leoa 
(Sierra Leone). In January, 1471, some of the men employed by Gomez had 
reached Sa Jorge de Mina, and as on the fifth year of the contract, 1474, Ruy de 
Sequeira arrived at Cape Sa. Catherina, 2°3o' lat. S., the coast of Benin had therefore 
already been examined. According to Antonio Galvao (2nd Ed., pp. 25-6) Sequeira 
sighted or visited Benin about 1472. Aveiro discovered (in the sense of making 
better known) the city in i486, or perhaps 1482. While it is probable, therefore, 
that Sequeira discovered the city, Aveiro gave us the first description of it. His 
account is reproduced here from Ruy de Pina's Chronica (Chap, xxiv., Discovery 
of Beny.) " This year, i486, the land of Beny was for the first time discovered beyond 
the Mine in the Rivers of the Slaver, by Joham Aff'onso de Aveiro who died there. 
It was from there that came to these Kingdoms (Portugal) the Guinea Pepper' which 
grew in large quantities on that land, and the samples of which were imm.ediately 
sent to Flanders and to other parts, being there estimated at high prices. And the 

1 The Guinea pepper or grains (hence Grain Coast) were seeds of the Ammonium Paradisi, and 
were a spice not a pepper ; they are closely related to the Cardamoms which are the "pepper" 
alluded to as from India. 

The First Chvoniclevs and Discovery. 5 

King of Beny sent to the King (of Portugal) as Ambassador a negro who was his 
captain in a seaport known as Ugato [Gwato] , wishing to have news of our lands, 
the people of which had been (in Beny) considered a great novelty. This Ambassador 
was a man of prudence and natural knowledge. He was received with great 
festivities and was shown many of the good things of these Kingdoms, and he 
was returned to his land in a ship of the King (of Portugal) who at the moment of 
parting presented him, for himself and his wife, with rich dresses, and sent at the same 
time to the King (of Beny) a rich present of things which he thought the latter would 
greatly esteem, also holy and Catholic advice, with entreaty to embrace the faith, 
and great censures for the heresies and great idolatries and feiticarias,^ which the 
negroes profess in these lands. And with them then went some new Royal Feitores 
to reside there and negotiate the said pepper and other things in the King of 
Portugal's interest. However, as the country was afterwards found to be very 
unhealthy and not so fruitful as had been expected, their commerce ceased."^ De 
Barros tells us (Decada i., Liv. iii. Cap. iii.) *' Little profit came from what the 
King (of Portugal) did in answer to the request of the King of Beny whose Kingdom 
lies between the Kingdom of Congo and the fortress of St. George of the Mine ; 
because ... in the year i486, the King of Beny sent to the King of Portugal for 
Priests who could teach him the faith. This Ambassador of the King of Beny was 
brought over by Joao Affonso d'Aveiro who had been sent by the King (of Portugal) 
to discover their coast, wherefrom he brought the first Pepper of Guinea ever seen 
in Portugal, which we now call ' tailed pepper ' {de Rabo, i.e., with a tail) because it 
is different from that which comes from India, the former having attached to it part 
of the peduncle on which it grows. This the King (of Portugal) sent to Flanders ; 
but it was not so much esteemed as the Indian one. And because this Kingdom of Beny 
was near the fortress of St. George of the Mine, and the Negroes who brought gold to 
its market wished to buy their slaves to carry their merchandises, the King (of Portugal) 
ordered a new Feitoria to be established in a port of Beny called Gato [Gwato] . 
The King of Beny was very much attached to his idolatries, etc." The same 
chronicler also informs us (p. 183) that in 1540 an Ambassador from Benin brought 
a cross (? crucifix) from Benin ; this w^as supposed to have come from Prester John. 

In Pereira's Esmiralda, 1505, we read that there is a good road from Gwato to 
Benin. Gwato is a league across from gate to gate ; there are no walls but there is 
a deep ditch all round. Pereira states he was there four times. The houses are 
built of sun-dried bricks covered with palm leaves. Benin, which is 80 leagues (sic) 
long by 40 leagues {sic) broad, is always at war with its neighbours from whom 
it obtains captives, whom w^e buy at from 12 to 15 brass or copper manillas.^ The 

1 The word fetish generally used is merely a corruption of the Portuguese /t'/7/to, hence feiticeria or 
feiticismo. B-.R. 

2 On this Mr. C. Punch remarks: "The country had little of real value to the Europeans. 
Ivory was scarce from a trade point of view, rubber was not known, palm oil and palm kernels were 
not much worked, in fact the latter were earmarked as ' King's trade " and were tabu. For a time 
slaves formed a consideration, but with the slave trade abolished there was little of value to keep 
Europeans going. There were professions of friendship, great ceremonies, and much fetish, and then 
after a time the Europeans found there was nothing in Benin to keep them there, and so time after 
time intercourse has ceased, and the country gone to sleep again." 

•^ Ma.n'i\\a. — via 0, hand, atiel or anilJio, ring. These bracelets are still a medium of exchange in 
other parts of Africa and are manufactured in Birmingham, and sent out by the Liverpool traders. 
It is said that in some cases the natives are so particular that they test the manilla by its sound 
when struck together, which they do behind their backs, and that, therefore, the mixing of the metal 
has to be carefully attended to. 

6 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

ways of these people are very extraordinary, he says, and he refers to many fetishes 
which, however, he does not describe. East of Benin, loo leagues in the interior, 
there is a people with a King called Likasagu,^ lord of many and possessed of great 
power ; also another power whose chief amongst the negroes is like that of the Pope 
amongst us. There are then references to men who live in mountains and woods ; 
the negroes called them Oza. Up a branch of the Formosa river, loo leagues, there 
is another land of negroes called Opu (p. 72). The people of Benin are fradus 
marked with iron on the eyebrows, and this sign no other negro has but these, so that 
they can easily be distinguished. Five leagues up the Forcados river there is a 
trade in slaves, cotton cloths, palm oil, leopard skins, and blue beads with red lines 
which the negroes call coris,^ which we buy for bracelets of brass and copper ; these 
articles are sold for gold at Elmina (p. 73). The natives on this river are called 
Huella ; further inland Subou [Sobo] is very populous ; there is plenty of pepper ; then 
nearer the coast are negroes called Jos [Ijos] with much country, who are warlike 
and cannibals, and their chief trade slaves and ivory. At Ramos there are people like 
the Jos who eat human flesh as above mentioned ; there is no trade ; the population is 
thick and there is plenty of timber ; it is a collection of islands, and canoes are made 
out of one piece of wood (p. 74). He gives the names of the various rivers and says 
they are all inhabited by Jos, " who are eaters of men." At Rio del Rey the people 
are Jos, as already described, and all eat human flesh (p. 75). At a large village 
on this river salt is obtained, and the biggest boats made in all Guinea ; some can 
carry 80 men ; some come 100 leagues and more from the upper part of the river ; 
the people bring yams, slaves, cows, goats and sheep (called bozi) and sell them for 
salt at this village. To our people they sell these things for copper manillas, more 
valued than brass ; a slave sells for 8-10 copper manillas; one copper manilla is sold 
for a big elephant's tusk (p. 76). 

In the collection of MSS., Alguns Documentos, p. 395, we read: " Durate Piries 
writes on 20th Oct. 15 16, to King Dom Miguel : " it is quite true I am a friend of the 
King of Benin, because the King of Benin is a friend of all who tell him something 
well of your Highness . . . We eat with his son . . . When the Missionaries arrived, 
the King of Benin was very delighted ; the Missionaries went with the King to the 
war and remained a whole year. The King could not do anything until the war was 
over as for the great mystery^ peace was wanted. At the end of the year, in the 
month of August, the King ordered his son and two of his greatest noblemen to become 
Christians, and built a church in Benin, and they learnt how to read and did it very 
well." The letter was written during the war. 

The list of Benin Kings given by Roupell's Officials is as follows : — 
"The Kings of Benin were as follows, but there have also been small Kings only 
reigning a short time : — 

I. Eweka. 7. Olua. 13. Ohuon. 

Omobesa. 8. Ebowani. 14. Ahejai. 

Ewedon. g. Ojolua. 15. Akenbedo. 

Oguola. 10. Esige. 16. Nakpe. 

Ouhe. II. Osogboa. 17. Akedzua. 

1 Probably this would be the Oni of Ife the holy city of the Yorubas, though tradition says the 
Bini came from a place north of the Niger originally, and lived under a King Lamorodu. C.P. 

2 To this day they say in Portugal for, to be deceived, " to get a caurina." 
" ? Festival. 

The First Chroniclers and Discovery. 7 

6. Ezoeti. 12. Ehenbuda. 

18. Erizoyne or Egue, his sons were: Okenbuda, Ogegba, Omohoma, 

Ogichowi, Okunteshi, Ogiewuha, Egueminara, Oguomo, Oguozi, 

ig. Okenbuda, his sons were: Osifu, Ogebayin, Ogiogua, Edunwe. 

20. Osifu, his sons were : Esemede, lyawe, Uzamma, Ogilogun, Akembo. 

21. Esemede or Erediowa, his sons were: Adolo, Odiowa, Obunwekun, 
Osague, Ewedoh, Ejebihen, Edulo, Iduhon, Osaboa, Eregbowa. 

22. Adolo or Odiobara, his sons were: Eduboa, Orokoro, Erise, Iduseri. 

23. Edubo or Overami, his sons were: Iguobasimi, Osuolele. 
According to these Officials, the white men arrived at Benin in the reign of the 

tenth King, Esige, or 424 years before the deposition of the twenty-third or last King 
Eduboa. In this period there were thus fourteen kings, who, exclusive of the minor 
ones must have had an average reign of over 30 years. We know as yet too little of 
the terms of life of a negro in his native land (although an African native should have 
as much chance of a long life in his own country as a European has in Europe), to 
decide definitely that the kings did not reign so long as stated. The average reign of 
the sovereigns of England since Egbert in 827 is 18 years ; of the Saracen rulers of 
Egypt, of whom there were 193 m 876 years (A.D. 641-1517) it was 4^ years, (Stanley 
Lane Poole, The Art of the Saracens, Lond. 1886), of the Askia family in Songhai (F. 
Dubois, Timboucto, Paris 1897), ^^ was about 1 1 years ; from the foundation of Ayuthia 
in 1350 to its destruction by the Burmese in 1767, a period of 417 years, there are 
said to have been 33 kings, giving an average to every reign of 13^ years. (Chinese 
Rep. XX., p. 351). Landolphe found that formerly " Owhere and Benin were one 
Kingdom only, the present division being due to two brothers, one of whom reigned 
in Benin, and the other of whom declared his independence, took up arms and set up at 
O where [Warri] . Twenty years ago [i.e. about 1768] the last King was the sixty-first of 
this Kingdom, Those of Benin are lost in the obscurity of time " (ii., p. 60). If about 
one hundred years ago an exceptionally able observer was unable to trace the number 
of kings, it is somewhat unlikely that tradition at the present day would be able to give 
us more reliable information. If in about 1770 the King of Warri was the sixty-first 
king of that country counting from the cleavage, and taking the average ruling life of a 
Warri king to be the same as alleged of those of Benin, i.e. thirty years, then the cleavage 
would take us back 1830 years, or to about B.C. 60, which is absurd. The records of 
the Dahomy kings are probably as little to be relied on as those of Benin, and we may 
presume that there were many more than 14 kings who reigned within the period 
given. The list omits mention of the name of King Kambadje referred to by Dapper, 
who must have died about the middle of the seventeenth century, but as it appears to 
have been customary for kings to be known by two names occasionally, this king 
may appear in the list under another name. The name of Jambra, king in Burton's 
time, is also not mentioned in the list, nor that of Bowarre, who was king when 
Adams paid his visit. 

According to Roupell's Officials, " The people of this country sent to Ife, in 
the Yoruba country for a King. Eweke was sent to them, he came with a few men, 
he came to Benin City ; he went softly (slowly) into all the country ; if the people were 
weak he fought with them and caught them ; if strong, he talked cunningly with them ; 
and he and his men sat down there and took their daughters to wife; then when they 
had children, they called their wives and children and returned to this town. When 
Eweka came here he found a small town, just a few houses in the part where the 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvovs. 

white man now lives ; Eweka bought a slave named Ubini — when he died he buried 
him near him, and told all the world that whoever came and asked the name of this 
country should be told Ubini or Aiye, so the Bini people became very plenty."^ The 
tradition that the Bini kings came from the west is curious, being contrary to the 

Fig.'i. — Bronze Plaque in British Museum 
representing a European out shooting accom- 
panied by his dog. He wears a hat with 
feather under which appears a band covering 
the chin and neck, reaching to the lower lip, 
and vandyked along the lower edge. He 
wears a kind of surcoat punched with a con- 
ventional design, a base [pleated skirt] , knee 
breeches and boots. He is armed with a 
straight cross-hilted dagger, and holds a 
matchlock in his hands, one end of the long 
match being wound round his left wrist. He 
is in the act of applying the match to the 
priming. The dog is represented as wearing 
a collar (Read and Dalton, Antiquities). Note 
the miserable position and condition of the 
man's legs. 

Fig. 2. — Bronze Plaque in British Museum 
representing a Bearded European. Note the 
curious addition of figures in the three corners 
of the plaque. The whole is full of detail 
witness to the keen powers of observation of the 

general rule that people drift westward. In this respect, however, the officials agree 
with the tradition of the people at Warri, the Jekries, who claim to come from the 

^ It must be remembered that among negroes it frequently happens that slaves reach a high 
position through their own exertions. This slave Ubini may at his death have been occuping a 
position of confidence, for it constantly happens that a negro king will trust a bought slave in pre- 
ference to his courtiers ; on the fidelity of a bought slave he can rely. 

The First Chvoniclevs and Discovery. g 

west.^ It must be remembered that '' the first capital was not Benin city as at 
present, but a town farther north called Ado though not the Ado now known in the 
Lagos colony. Great Benin up to the present time was called Ado. In the song 
it is said: Obubu, enado Obubu — don't go to Benin; and again \Jhado — Do you 
understand Bini ; Imah^^t? — I do not understand Bini" (C. Punch). See also Dapper 

Roupell's Officials give the following note of the first arrival of white men, pre- 
sumably Portuguese : — " This is how the white men first came to Ado. King Esige 
or Osawe was very old and could not walk about, but all the time he could tell his 
boys that he was a white man when he died. So they sent messengers with some 
tusks as presents to the country by the big water (the Jekri country — the Benin 
river) where white men used to come to trade, and they told the messengers to go and 
salute any white men they found there and beg them to come, which they did, and ever 
since then white men have come to Benin. The white men stayed long, many many 

Fig. 3 — Bronze Plaque representing a 
European armed with matchlock and sword. 
British Museum. 

Fig. 4. — Bronze Plaque representing Euro- 
pean armed with matchlock and sword. British 

years they came to trade, and if a man comes to trade he must sit down and sell his 
things softly softly ; they used to buy ivory, redwood, oil, gum, and slaves, but 
principally ivory; in return they brought guns, powder, rum, salt, cloth, and silk; then 
there was a different white man who used to come, but he only bought slaves; when 
he came, a messenger used to come before him to tell everyone he was coming, then 
if a man had any slaves to sell he could send to farm to get them, but he only paid a 
poor price; one to four bags.^ These whitemen used to sit down at Gwato and there 

1 Granville and Roth, Jour. Anthrop. Insl., Vol. xxviii., p. 105. 

2 At the present day, a bag of cowries contains about 20,000 shells, value about 10/-. The " softly 
softly" refers to the credit system which is essential to the native method of trading. See trade. 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

Fig. 7. 

Fig- 5' — A. well executed bronze statuette of a European soldier at the time of the first 
arrival of the Portuguese in the pose of firing off his flint lock gun. The details are well carried 
out, but in many points the touch of the native artist makes itself visible : thus we have the 
shapeless contour of the right arm and the little fusils which bedeck the man's thighs — a species 
of decoration, namely the dabbing of a miniature figure on to a large one, so characteristic of 
savage art. The sword or knife (fig. 6) carried by this military man, like the rest of the figure 
has every indication of having been copied from a European model and the guard much 
resembling a Toledo rapier (fig, 7) of the middle of the seventeenth century. 

The First Chroniclers and Discovery. il 

they built houses, big houses with big doors, in which they kept their goods and 
slaves. We never heard of these white men bringing white women here, but the King 
could dash (present) them for some girl to wife." 

According to Dapper, " the Kingdom of Benin, so called with us after its 
capital, Great Benin, is bordered to the north-west by the Kingdoms of Ulkami 

[Alkomy] Yabu, Isago and Udobo, to the north by that of Gabu, situated at an 
eight days' journey above the great town of Benin ; to the east, by the Kingdoms 
of Istanna and Forkado or Ouwerri [Warri] and to the south by the sea. Kow 
far the Kingdom of Benin extends from south to north, is as yet unknown, as some 
places lie at a great distance from each other, being separated by impenetrable 
forests, but from east to west it measures about a hundred miles [Dutch] . There 
are many towns in this Kingdom, whose names are as yet unknown, except a few ; 
for many unknown towns lie at a distance of eight or nine days travelling beyond the 
town of Benin, near Ulkami, besides an innumerable quantity of boroughs and 
villages along the river of Benin, a:nd further up country. Near the mouth of the 
Benin river, there is a village called Lubo, in the language of the country, and at 
the left hand side, another Arbon or Argon, an open borough situated fifteen or 
sixteen miles up the Benin river, along the bank, having about the length of a gun 
shot [lit., shot with a small piece of ordnance] and the breadth of a musket shot. 
The interior is all covered with underwood ; only intersected by a few narrow foot- 
paths where two people cannot walk side by side. Twenty miles [Dutch] or about 
that, up the same river, at its main source lies a borough or village called Gotton 

[Gwato] as long as Arbon but broader. Nine or ten miles from Gotton, fifteen 
miles to the interior, lies the town of Benin, called with us Great Benin, there being 
no other town of that size in all these countries, and by the natives Udo. At one 
day's travelling from the town of Benin is a village or town called Koffo. The 
country of Benin is all low and covered with woods, here and there intersected by 
rivers, and full of morasses, but in some parts not sufficiently watered, especially 
between Gotton and Great Benin, where the king has ordered the people to provide 
travellers with water. There are large jugs filled with fresh and savoury water, as 
transparent as crystal, with shells put beside them to drink from. No one is allowed 
to take away one drop of water, except for the fixed price, which is put down by it, 
although there is no watchman standing near. Among other rivers, this country is 
watered by one called by the natives, Arbo, and by the white people, Rio de Benin, 
which is Portuguese, and means River of Benin. ^ It is situated eighteen miles more 
to the east than Rio Lagos, flows into the sea with a broad and wide mouth, before 
which lies a stretch of dry land, and has a rather good entrance for yachts and sloops, 
but inland, near the villages Ardon and Gotton, it gets narrow and tortuous. Near 
the mouth, in the middle, this river is ten feet deep at high tide. Further inland, it 
has several ramifications ; among others, one at four miles distance from the sea, 
flowing into the River of Lagos." Elsewhere, Dapper mentions that the king's 
territory '* reaches over many towns, villages and boroughs ; for all around there is 

1 Adams called the Benin River, the Formosa River. " The country called Benin is of consid- 
erable extent, and situated principally to the north and west of the River Formosa, from which a 
wide and deep creek branches, that leads to a town called Gatto, where vessels trading with Benin 
have their factories. Craft of the burthen of sixty tons can navigate this creek to within four or five 
miles of the town, which is distant from the Formosas thirty-five miles ; and the first dry land which 
appears after entering that river is near Gatto, the intermediate country being a morass covered with 
an impenetrable forest " (pp. 109-110). 

12 Great Benin — Its Customs, Avt and Hovvovs. 

no King that possesses so many beautiful towns and villages. Many kingdoms, as 
Istanna, Forkado, Yabu, Isago, and Udobo, are also tributary to this kingdom, 
although Isago is the mightiest kingdom indeed, and fears the King of Benin less 
than all the others." 

With reference to Dapper's mention of Gwato, Mr. C. Punch writes me: 
" Cotton or Guatun or Eguatun, now known as Gwato, was not, according to the old 
traditions told me, the first place devoted to European intercourse, but the Ologbo 
Creek. There were a people said to be living between Ologbo and Guatun called 
Abiala, who were also said to be great witches, half men, half monkey, and that no 
one could go to their country. They were of course found to be quite mythical, as 
I naturally hunted round to find out what was meant by this curious description. 
Anyhow, these mythical beings were supposed to be connected with quite the first 
Europeans. The Aburaku had a catch phrase which was supposed to be primeval 
white man's talk. All the Guattos used to know and laugh at it as a great joke ; 
but I only learnt it euphonically like a parrot : 

Akakenikakeni yeva yeva 

Sickee done sickee done 

Nigara biyette 

This seems nonsense, but it was evidently a saying of old time. The first line had 
no meaning at all and was only supposed to be how the whitemen talk, the other two 
lines passed into a proverb meaning ' Sick done. Sick done. Halloa, what's this sore 
leg come up.' In other words, ' One trouble is done. Are you sure the trouble has 
not broken out in a new place." 

Barbot does not speak with Dapper's^ enthusiasm of the kingdom. "Its extent 
from south to north must be near 200 leagues, and its breadth from west to east 
about 125 leagues, but it is a country not easy to travel in, being for the most part 
very woody. The lands about Udo, the metropolis and those near the seaside, are 
very well peopled and stored with towns and villages little frequented by Europeans, 
it is also well inhabited towards Alkomy. However, although there is a vast number 
of people in the Kingdom, yet in proportion to its extent, and in comparison with Fida 
[Whydah] and Ardra, it is not populous, the towns in many parts being at great 
distance from each other; especially inland and near the river " (p. 356.) In 
Landolphe's time the chief of Benin was still " very powerful, several neighbouring 
kingdoms being tributary to him, amongst others that of Juda [between Patagri and 
Porto Novo]" (II. 62). 

Burton (p. 409) surmised that in its palmy days, " the kingdom was bounded on 
the east by the Kwari (Niger), westward by the land about Porto Novo, and southward 
by the sea — its limit to the north does not appear. Two of its colonies are Badagry 
and Lagos, and are called by the natives Aoni, or the offspring of Ini — Benin," while 
according to Gall wey, forty years ago the boundary was supposed "to reach to 
within fifty miles of where Lokoja now stands ; the south-eastern boundary is 

1 Dapper's description of Warri is as follows : — " About 24 miles to the east of the Benin river, 
another river, the Rio Forcado as it is called by the Portuguese, flows into the sea, near and about 
which river lies the kingdom of Ouwerre or Forcado. The river, agreeably shaded by trees along 
its banks, is half-a-mile wide, and navigable for a yacht drawing seven or eight feet of water. One 
mile inland, on a branch of this river there lies a village of fishermen called Poloma, It is an 
unhealthy country on account of the great heat, bad and suffocating vapours, by which people, 
especially foreigners coming into the river to trade with the natives, who carelessly lay themselves 
to sleep in the evening air or in the moonshine, are often very soon swept away." 

The First Chvoniclevs and Discovery. 13 

Ethiope River. Many states pay tribute to the king. The tribute is collected 
yearly, the king sending his so-called war-men to collect it." Gallwey is, however, 
in error here for neither the Akuse people nor the Kukurukus would acknowledge 
the King of Benin. As a fact they were always fighting the Bini, and it was to 
fight them that the king was anxious to get European support and to obtain large 

The travels of the Landers throw just a little light on the extent of the influence of 
Benin and its neighbours. They tell us^ when at Badagry in 1830, that during the 
lifetime of the late ruler's father, " and for countless ages before that period, Badagry 
was a province of Lagos, and tributary to it, as Lagos is and has been from time 
immemorial to the powerful King of Benin (L p. 47)." They also tell us (I. p. 49) that 
the body of the late chief at Badagry, " like those of his ancestors had been sent to 
Benin in order that its bones might adorn the sacred temple at that place, agreeably 
to an ancient and respected custom which has ever been religiously conformed to and 
tenaciously held by the Lagos people." At Katunga, about 200 miles N.N.W. of 
Benin and about 50 from Rabba, it was expressly and repeatedly told to them 
" that the monarch of this empire is brother to the King of Benin, but notwith- 
standing this near relationship of the two sovereigns, not the slightest intercourse or 
communication is maintained between Yarriba and that power, so at least 
the inhabitants of this place [Katunga] have informed us ; and the reason they 
ascribe for it is that the distance between the countries is too great (L p. 176), and 
they were moreover told that the two kings "were of one father and one mother." 
During their stay at Kiama, about 50 miles S.W. of Busa, they heard that Ederesa, 
the rightful heir to the throne of Nouffie [Nupe] " sought an asylum with one of 
the chiefs of a state near the Kingdom of Benin (L p. 234)." Finally at Wowow, 
about 25 miles S. of Busa, the king's head drummer, a Nupe man, told them '* that 
canoes capable of containing 500 men in each, and having thatched houses in them 
are taken to Binnie [Benin] with great quantities of cloth, cotton, &c., by his 
countrymen, &c." (IL p. 117). 

Of the connection with the distant Katunga, Mr. C. Punch makes some 
interesting remarks : " Katunga seems to have been the name of the old town of 
Awyaw of which Orangan was King. One of his sons became King of Benin and 
took his father's money. Another became King of Ketu and took the * crown,' I 
suppose the family honours. The Oni of Ife inherited the land, but it must be 
remembered that Oni Ife (Kewhohas Ife) was originally the Alaffin. The Alaffin left 
an officer at Ife when he went to war, and the officer became Oni Ife. He became 
by degrees a sort of religious guardian of the royal tombs and treasures, and 
eventually attained a position in some ways semi-religious more important than the 
Alaffin. The Alaffin, however, is in my opinion the titular head of the Yorubas, 
and by tradition the Benin Kings descend from him." 

Capt. Hugh Crow^ mentions a Bini embassy which arrived at Bonny during 
one his visits, (p. 218). This was prior to 1812, but Crow's editors will have it (p. igo) 
that Benin claims sovereignty ** from Bonny to Calabar " which does not seem 

1 Jour, of an Expedition to explore the Course and Termination of the Niger, 3 vols., sm. 8vo, 
London, 1832. 

2 Memoir of Capt. Hugh Crow, Lond. 1830. 

14 Great Benin — Its Ctistoms, Art and Hovvovs. 

As to the density of the population in the early days, the information is naturally 
insignificant. Dapper says, " The country is populous, and there are especially many 
noblemen." Nyendael declines to call the town a city, and says it was reduced to a 
village by its internal dissensions. Adams between 1786 and 1800 placed the popu- 
lation at 15,000.^ Landolphe puts the population of Gwato at 3,000 (I., p. 53) while 
his friends Legroing and Balon place it at 40 cases [compounds] (Labarthe, p. 172). 

As far back as the year 1700 the city was already going to ruin. " In the 
beginning of my description of this city," writes Nyendael, " I informed you of its mean 
state at present, that the greatest part of it lies desolate ; which is indeed deplorable, 
for the surrounding country is as pleasant as could be wished ; there is no interposing 
hill or wood to rudely interrupt the agreeable prospect of thousands of charming trees, 
which, by their wide extended branches, full of leaves, seem to invite mankind to 
repose under their shade. The ruin of this town and the surrounding land, was 
occasioned by the King causing two kings of the street [? Rios de Aros] to be killed, 
under pretence that they had attempted his life, though all the world was satisfied to 
the contrary, and thoroughly convinced that their overgrown riches were the true 
cause of their death, so that the King might enrich himself with their effects, as he 
did indeed. i\fter this barbarity, the King found also a third man that stood in his 
way, who being universally beloved, was timely warned of that prince's intention, and 
accordingly took to flight, accompanied by three-fourths of the inhabitants of the town ; 
which the King observing, immediately assembled a number of men from the border- 
ing country, and caused the fugitives to be pursued, in order to oblige them to return ;' 
but they were so warmly received by this king of the street and his followers, that 
they forced them to return with bloody noses, and give their master an account of 
their misadventure. But he resolving not to rest there, made a fresh attempt, which 
succeeded no better than the former ; but this was not all ; for the fugitive, thoroughly 
incensed and flushed, came directly to the city, which he plundered and pillaged, 
sparing no place but the King's court, after which he retired, but continued incess- 
antly for the space of ten years to rob the inhabitants of Great Benin, till at last, by 
the mediation of the Portuguese, a peace was concluded between him and the King, 
by which he was entirely pardoned all that was past, and earnestly requested by the 
King to return to his former habitation ; however, he would not trust himself there, 
bui lives two or three days journey from Benin, where he keeps as great a court and 
state as the King. The returning citizens were affably and amicably received by the 
King, and given honourable positions, in order to induce the rest to return, which 
probably they will not do, as they are very well satisfied where they are. It is there- 
fore to be feared that the greater part of the town is still likely to continue uninhabited." 

Before closing this chapter, it may be as well to make some reference to the 
vestiges of Christianity which have been met with, as relics of the teachings of the 
early Portuguese missionaries. When the city was taken by the Punitive Expedition, 
as Dr. F. N. Roth informed me, one brass image of Jesus Christ without a 
cross, about 8" or 9" long was found; also several small crucifixes about i^" long, 
such as are worn by Roman Catholics. It was of these that Dr. Allman wrote in 

1 In Landolphe's time the population of Warri was estimated by him at 12,000 to 15,000 souls 
(I., p. 312). Adams writing about the same date says. "The capital of Warri is divided into two 
towns, distant from each other half-a-mile. The most populous one is that in which the King resides, 
and the combined population amounts propably to 5,000 souls, (p 123). Rob. Norris estimated 
Abomey, the capital of Dahomey, to have 24,000 inhabitants. (Memoirs . . . King of Dahomeyi 
Lond. 1789. p. 92). 

The First Chroniclers and Discovery. 15 

the ' Lancet,' " I picked up a bronze figure of our crucified Saviour ; this, with other 
emblems of Christianity found in the city, led me to believe that the custom of human 
crucifixions, as practised by the natives, was derived from the representations of the 
Crucifixion of our Saviour, introduced probably, by the Portuguese." 

As we have seen above from the old Portuguese chroniclers, the discoverers 
christened many natives, and built a Christian Church, but the seeds of the Christian 
religion do not appear to have found a congenial soil, for in or about 1686, that is 
long after the first appearance of the Dutch, we find Portuguese missioners reproving 
the King of Benin for permitting human sacrifices at " the making of the father." 
Gallwey is, of course, in error when he states (p. 128) that Christianity has never yet 
reached this country. 

At Warri, the missioners appear to have been more successful than in Benin, 
though succeeding travellers give evidence of continuous falling away. According to 
Father Jerom Merolla da Sorrento (Churchill I, p. 676), Vice-Superior Father Angelo 
Maria d' Aiaccio [Corsica] and Father Bonaventura da Firense [Florence] requested 
the king to cause his subjects to be properly married, and not allow them to go about 
naked until they were marriageable. The king's acquiescence was made conditional 
on their obtaining for him a white woman for a wife, so they obtained a young 
Portuguese lady from the island of St. Thomas. The king married her, and his 
subjects reformed. About this time, there was another missionary in St. Thomas, 
who visited Warri every six months to baptise the people, for doing which he obtained 
two slaves. 

Dapper says of the religion of the people of Warri, " they have nearly the same 
customs [as the Bini] , but they do not sacrifice so many men and cattle, considering 
it a cruel deed, and the devil's work ; so that these people could be converted to 
Christianity with a little teaching. Neither are any Fetizeros or devil-charmers 
allowed in the country, nor do people poison each other so easily as in Benin. The 
natives and even the King keep a little to the Roman Catholic religion. There is a 
church with an altar in the town of Ouwerre, with a crucifix with the images of Mary 
and the Apostles, two candlesticks standing beside them. The blacks also enter this 
church with the paternoster continually in their hands, like true Portuguese, reciting 
them with other popish prayers. They are outwardly very religious, and can read 
and write, being very fond of Portuguese books, pens and paper." At Warri, writes 
Landolphe, " In the middle of a large square, we observed a cross covered with about 
fifty church lamps, which had been erected by the Brasil missionaries, who had 
baptised the then king, under the name of Manual Otobia. The reverend father 
built him a beautifully carved chapel, representing the crucifixion and the holy 
women " (II., p. 37). It was at Warri too, that Lieut. King "found in this kingdom 
evidences of the Roman Catholic religion, which has been introduced by the Portu- 
guese. At Christmas, he saw a procession going from the town to a small village, 
which carried a crucifix and other emblems of Christianity." Lieut. King was at 
Warri about the same time as Capt. Adams, whose account reads, " On entering the 
first apartment of the palace, we were much surprised to see, placed on a rude kind 
of table, several emblems of the Catholic religion, consisting of crucifixes, mutilated 
saints, etc. Some of these articles were manufactured of brass, and others of wood. 
On enquiring how they came into their present situation, we were informed that 
several black Portuguese missionaries had been at Warre, many years since, endeav- 
ouring to convert the natives into Christians ; and the building in which they 
performed their mysteries, we found still standing. A large wooden cross, which had 

i6 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors, 

withstood the tooth of time, was remaining in a very perfect state, in one of the angles 
formed by two roads intersecting each other. We could not learn that the Portuguese 
had been successful in making proselytes ; indeed. King Otoo's subjects appeared to 
trouble themselves very little about religion of any kind." 

At Warri, too. Burton (p. 153) "caught sight of a tall crucifix close to Ebewa's 
[an influential trader's] house. It still bore a crown of thorns, in bronze, nailed to 
the centre where the arms meet the body, and a rude M of the same material 
was fastened to the lower upright." Burton thought the monks' good work lived after 
them, for he adds " At Warri, we saw none of the abominations which afterwards 
met our eyes in the city of Benin." There is probably some truth in his argument, 
but it must be remembered that Warri lies near the sea, is very accessible to 
foreigners who object to human sacrifices, and hence the hold on a people of such 
customs where they exist would naturally be weakened, for it is to be hoped there 
are not many Europeans who encourage murder as did M. Jacolliot's friend (p. 297). 

Lieut. R. K. Granville tells me that " At Big Warri, a Jekri will take you to 
see what the monks did ; there is nothing to be seen except a large open common 
covered with grass very like a European sward, and curiously enough at Benin city 
there is a similar common covered with the same grass, ^ only much larger." Was 
the locality shown to Granville a place where a crucifix had once stood, as seen by 
Adams and Burton, and was the Benin sward the site of the church built by the 
Portuguese in 1516 ? 

With regard to this survival of missionary work I may add what Mr. Punch 
writes me : " They used to have services in the Malaku house at Eguatum [Gwato] , 
and they were very like the Roman Catholic Church services. A congregation 
which, as in other places, contained an unduly large proportion of women and 
children assembled in the Malaku house. The Ahuraku sat in a carpet covered chair, 
and drawled or intoned prayers, occasionally ringing a bell and rattling a stick. The 
congregation chanted responses." 

Fig. 49, — Bronze Bracelet, 3 in. (760 cm.) diam. 
Bankfield Museum, HaUfax. 

1 " This was probably Panicitm horizontale and is indigenous. There is a good deal of Dub grass 
{Cyanodactylon Sp.) in West Africa but it has been imported, and in so far as I remember was not to 
be found in Benin." C.P. 


Old records silent — Fine physique — Good carriage — No deformities— Women not equal to the men- 
Burton considers women graceful (i8) — Bini ambassadors at Bonny — Albinos — Hair dressing (19) 
—Old illustrations— Plaiting— Oiling— Coiffure lasts three years— Various fashions— Artificial 
tresses (20) — Matted hair — Shaven polls — Varieties of dress — Clothing of rich and poor (22) — 
Upper portion of body nude — Dress of rich women and poor women — Comparison with Wydah 
and Gold Coast — Dress of a court official (23) — Ample kilts (24) — Young people naked until 
clothed by the king — Feast when clothed — Nakedness at court — Men clothed and wived at same 
time — Women clothed and married — Coral necklaces the only dress — Copper bangles — Coral 
necklaces — Iron rings — Brass bracelets — Cowrie garters — Shark's teeth (25) — General use of 
coral — Coral worked into hair — Fiadors coral necklaces — Burton's notice of coral collar (26) — 
Chiefs covered with a profusion of coral — King's coral net — King's coral belt, etc. — Valuable 
coral gifts — Origin of the coral — Use of coral on the West Coast — Variety of personal 
ornament (27) — Play upon patterns — Agate insets — Fetish bracelets — Copper tubes — Curious 
finger ring — Glass inset; no enamel — Porpoise-like pendant — Gold plated ornaments (30) — 
Curious connecting ring — Armlets and leglets — Native and European figures — Fertility in 
design — Cicatrisation (33). 

Of the physical characters of the people the old chronicles naturally tell us very 
little. Dapper says, '' The men are finer in stature than the women." On the road to 
Benin, Fawckner writes, "I was at once struck with the person of the chief; his 
stature, mien and deportment at once bespoke him to be a ruler and governor. He 
was about five feet nine inches high, his limbs well formed, and of beautiful propor- 
tions. He was surrounded by many of his people, who were all like himself, well 
made, robust, and of the most exquisite symmetry, differing only from him in com- 
plexion, theirs being of the blackest jet and glossy as ebony, whilst his was a paler 
and more subdued satin, approaching to that of an American Indian; which contrasted 
with his pearly teeth, well formed mouth, and over-arching brow, beneath which his 
small dark eye darted forth an eagle glance of scrutiny, forming a countenance well 
calculated to inspire a beholder with profound dread, it ever he had previously heard 
of the character of the man." (pp. 55-56). And later he says of the people '' they 
are as black as jet, but the boldest and finest race of people we saw in the country. 
Few are less in stature than five feet nine inches ; their carriage is erect and graceful 
in the extreme, and we never once saw a deformed person among them ; on the con- 
trary we noticed several pre-eminently remarkable for their symmetry. One in 
particular, whom, by way of distinction, we used to call ' the handsome man,' was 
fully entitled to that appellation. He was about twenty-two years of age. His 
features seemed cast more in the European mould, being interesting and well pro- 
portioned ; his teeth were regular and of pearly whiteness ; small feet and knees, and 
a well-formed leg ; when walking he used his sword as a stick, and with his gun 
resting on his right shoulder, he presented an unusually graceful appearance, and 
would have been an excellent model for the pencil of the artist, or chisel of the 
sculptor. This character applies only to the men ; the women fall infinitely below 
them in respect of personal beauty and proportion their bodies are, moreover, tatooed 

1 8 

Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

with various grotesque figures, and distinguishing marks, which combine to render 
them very inferior to their lords in graceful comeliness." (pp. 64-65). 

Crow, at Bonny, saw two Bini men, said to be relations of King Pepple at 
Bonny, who had come as ambassadors from Benin. He describes them as " two 
remarkably fine looking men of from thirty to forty years of age, well-formed and 
about six feet high. Their looks and manner were of a superior order, and they 
walked in majestic style ... I never met with any black princes so sensible and well 
informed as these men, who had so noble and commanding an appearance." 
(pp. 218-9). 

MahJS '' Mg^»u¥{7r 77* 

der Vi-'odor 



CumUynrti Soldaicn 

Sfrt yfl 

Fig. 8. — Set of profiles illustrating methods of coiffure from the plate 
accompanying D.R's. account in De Bry, The four on the top row repre- 
sent those of Bini women ; the first on the second row that of a Fiador, 
the next that of a captain and the following two those of soldiers ; the eight 
below the double line represent those of women. It is doubtful as to 
whether these sketches are from life, but the coiffurs of the third on the 
third line and the very similar one of the second on the fourth line are 
like the Sobo women's head-dress of the present day. It is very doubtful, 
however, as to how far or whether at all these illustrations can be taken 
as authentic. 

According to Burton, " The wives and daughters of freemen had olive-coloured 
skins, tolerably regular features, with splendid eyes, and in some cases tall graceful 
figures and drooping shoulders, a formation never seen amongst the Guinea or GuUah 
nigger." (p. 410). Mr. Cyril Punch tells me that "in spite of the disgusting atrocities 
of the place, of the poverty and general decadence of Benin, I must say the Benin 
type of features was distinctly more refined than any other negroes in West Africa. 
They were lighter in colour, and the features were much cleaner cut. The Ojomo 
[a very high official] for instance, had refined, almost intellectual features, and most 
dignified well-bred manners." At Gwato Burton found *' the men are rather a fine 
race, tall and muscular ; many are very powerful." (p. 280).^ 

1 Of the Warri people Dapper writes : " The men are beautifully built, and so are the women, 
who are rather pretty according to the ideas of beauty prevalent in this country." 

The Appearance of the People. 


Fig. 9.— I 

Coral bead, i^in. (380 mm. long. 

Landolphe saw a partial albino with " his skin covered with variegated 
patches about the size of lentils, with fair hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes." (II., 83). 
Fawckner also saw an albino whose father and mother were both black. His head was 
shaved to the crown, where a small tuft of white wool was allowed to grow just like 

that on the back of a lamb, or 
the tail of a white poodle dog ; 
his eyes were of a beautiful 
pink, and shaded with a light 
brown eyebrow. The light 
affected his sight in a consider- 
able degree, and he was unable 
to see clearly during the middle 
of the day. He was the only 
one of such singular peculiarities 
noticed in the town, ''although 
I met several persons, perhaps 
equally curious, whose bodies 
were covered with spots of black, 
white or brown." (pp. 86).^ Ag- 
uramassi bragged to Mr. Punch 
of the strength of the Bini men, but Mr. Punch challenged him to produce a man 
who could lift the brass stool (see illustration) over his head ; several of his men tried 
and failed. Mr. Punch had a very big Krooman named Selby who lifted the stool 

The first recorder, D. R., tells us "they cut their hair in many and various 
ways, almost every individual having something special," and he supports his state- 
ment by profiles showing a variety of methods of head dressing, which are reproduced. 
Some of the head dressing is that followed by the Sobos at the present day. 

Dapper describes the hair dressing of the women only ; he says they " make 
up their hair in an elegant fashion and plait it in the shape of a wreath on the top 
of their heads ; dying one half black, and the other half red."^. 

Nyendael says " The men don't curl or adorn their hair, but content themselves 
with letting it grow in its natural way, except plaiting it in two or three places, in' 
order to hang a large piece of coral on to it ; but the women's hair is very artificially 
turned up into large and small plaits, and divided on the crown of the head, like an 
inverted cock's comb, by which means the small plaits are evenly arranged. Some 

Agate bead, i^in. (380 

Coral bead, fin. (95 

Coral bead, '^in. (63 

Coral bead, fin. (160 ,, 

Coral bead, i^in, (318 ,, 

Bankfield Museum, Halifax. 


1 Albinos seem to be specially selected for sacrifice. Hutchinson (Impressions, Lond. 1858, 
pp. 98 & 103) says that they were sacrificed to the surf juju, to bring European ships to Brass and 
Duketown, and Cole (Life in the Niger, Lond. 1862, p. 13) says an albino is killed at any peace 
ceremony at Abo. "The Jekris used also to make Malaku. The chiefs in their War Canoes went 
down to the mouth of the river and there threw into the water an albino boy and girl. In later 
times a goat took the place of a human being but the custom was kept up every year." (C. Punch). 

2 Of the Ijos, Burton says : " Those were a wild looking race, black, muscular, scantily clad, and 
with little lumps of wool protruding from their heads, sometimes like ragged balls of worsted, some- 
times like bear's ears and thrum mops^ sometimes like a saintly glory. They are lineal and worthy 
descendants of the robbers or pirates of Usa. . . . The skin is mostly black ; some, however, are 
fair and reddish, a thing everywhere to be observed among Nigerian tribes. Though the aspect of 
the men is savage and staring, the women are not unfrequently pleasing, the eyes especially being 
large and well formed, clear as onyxes, and fringed with long upcurling lashes which this tribe does 
not remove " (pp. 138 and 147). 


Great Benin — 7^5 Customs, Art and Horrors. 

divide their hair into twenty plaits and curls, according as it happens to be either 
thick or thin. Some oil it with the oil which they roast out of the kernels of oil-nuts, 
by which means it loses its black colour, and in process of time turns to a sort of 
green or yellow, that they are very fond of; notwithstanding which, in my opinion, 
it looks hideous;" thus somewhat endorsing D. R's illustrations. The courtier who 
interviewed Fawckner had his head shaved all over, with the exception of a circular 
spot on the crown from which a small tuft was still permitted to grow." (p. 82). 
Landolphe found " the women are all very coquettish ; thev take six months to do 
their hair, and the coiffure lasts three years. The number of beads and corals woven 
into their hair is infinite." (II., p. 52). 

At Gwato, speaking of the women, Burton remarks : " their head dresses rather 
tend to enhance their ugliness. The great novelty is in the habit of shaving a 
hand's-breadth from the forehead to the crown, leaving bear's ears on the sides of the 
cranium, or wool collected in straggling and irregular lumps. A better style is to 

Fig. 10. — Cap of a network of coral beads with a kind of 
tassel of larger beads at one side. Diam. g^in. (25 cm.) British 

tie the hair, which often will reach the shoulders in a knot a la Diane, with beads, 
gold ornaments, and bits of coral interwoven ; it would be tasteful but for the 
venerable-looking shaven scalp above. Some have false elf locks streaming down 
their faces, others, artificial tresses extending to the mid-leg, ribbon shaped, and so 
greasy that they appear to be leather ; both these coiffures belong to the Fetish 
women, or heguines [devotees] . A few wear flat pieces of hair along the sides of the 
head : they look like black cakes, with excess of oil or fat, and I cannot imagine how 

The Appearance of the People. 


they are ever undone; it beats plica palonica''^ (p. 280). Later on he describes the 
head dress of a chief's wife at Gwato thus : " Her hair a httle shaved off the pole, was 
collected behind into a huntress's knot, which was divided into four large bunches, 
with three smaller along each side of the head from the occiput to the temples. 
These knots were defined by beads of brass and coral, and a long metal scalp- 
scratcher, like the bodkin of a Tvastevevina, bisected the black hair." (p. 418). The 
shaven heads of the women evidently distressed Burton, for he says; "The peculi- 

Fig. II. — Fly Whisk said to have belonged to the King of 
Benin, formed of coral beads with a handle of four large beads 
of red jasper. Length 3g^in. (i m.) Messrs. Reed and Dalton 
find a resemblance in the jusper beads to the long cornelian 
beads which were exported from Europe for use in the slave 
trade. British Museum. 

arity of the shaven head gradually wore off: it seemed at last like a large forehead 
leading to the jetty black hair, which was collected into one or more bunches." (p. 410)^ 
The individuality of the Bini in hair dressing was also conspicuous in their 
clothing. D. R. says: "They have many strange varieties of clothes, of which not 

1 A diseased state of the head, in which a secreted fluid mats the hair. 

2 At Warri, according to Dapper, " They may wear their hair short or long as they like it." "The 
Ijos' style of hair dressing is very wild. Some wear thrum-mops, others long and crooked horns 
of matted, plaited hair, others, knobs of wool irregularly disposed over the surface." (Burton, p. 147). 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and HonovL 

one is similar to another, but all are made of cotton, over which they ordinarily wear 
a Holland cloth [leinwat] /' Dapper's account runs as follows: "Their dress is 
nearly the same as that of Ardez, for they wear, that is to say the richer people do, 
two, some even four garments, the one shorter than the other, the one over the other, 
worked with the needle so that the under garment is visible through the upper one. 
As to the poor people, they only wear a single piece of cloth over their naked body. 
The women wear on the lower portion of their bodies, a blue skirt reaching to the 
ankles, and some w^ear small pieces of cloth across their breasts, while they wear 
copper bangles round their arms." 

According to Nyendael, " The dress of the negroes here is neat, ornamental and 
much more magnificent than that of the negroes of the Gold Coast. The rich 

Fig. 12. — Coral Bead Apron. i6 x 27^in. (40 x 70 cm.) British Museum. 

amongst them wear, first, a white calico, or cotton cloth, about one yard long, and 
half as broad, which serves them as drawers ; over that, they wear a finer white cotton 
dress, that is commonly about sixteen or twenty yards long, which they wind very 
neatly round the middle, casting over it a scarf of about a yard long, and two spans 
broad, the end of which is adorned with fringe or lace, which is somewhat like that 
of the female negroes on the Gold Coast. The upper part of their body is generally 
naked. These are their clothes in which they appear abroad, but at home they wear 
only a coarse paan (loincloth)^ instead of drawers, covered with a large coloured grass 
woven cloth, which they wear like a cloak. The meaner sort go dressed similarly, 
but the stuff they wear is much coarser ; and whether fine or coarse every one is 
governed by his circumstances. The wives of the great lords wear calico paans 
woven in this country, which are very fine, and very beautifully checked with various 
colours. These paans or cloths are not very long, and are tucked in at the side like 

1 See Trade. 

The Appearance of the People. 


those which are worn at Fida [Wydah] but with this difference, that while the Fidase 
[Wydah] paan is open in front, this, on the contrary, is open behind, or on one side, 
and closed in front. The upper part of their body is covered with a beautiful cloth, 
about a yard long, instead of a veil, like that which the women wear on the Gold 
Coast. The poorer women and men differ in dress from the rich only in the quality of 

Fig. 13. — Bronze head showing coral head gear and the stiff" 
collar mentioned by Burton. Height i^^in. (340 mm.) Liverpool 

their garments." Of the dress of the women, Burton says : " In all cases the bosom 
was bare. The dress was a. pagne or loincloth." (p. 410). 

A court official is thus described by Fawckner (p. 82): "He was curiously 
habited, wearing a sort of short petticoat from the waist down to the knees, composed 
of a cloth very much valued by them, resembling our white bunting. This encircled 
his loins, and set off like an ancient dame's hooped petticoat ; the upper part of the 
body was naked, as well as the legs and feet ; his neck was ornamented with strings of 
red coral. In his hand he held a fan made of leather, to keep off the flies, and protect 
him from the rays of the sun. His head was quite as unprotected, being shaved all 

^4 Great Benin — Its Customs^ Art and Hovrovs. 

over, with the exception of a circular spot on the crown, from which a tuft was still 
permitted to grow. Such was the personage who brought the king's service." 

While on the road to Benin, Burton noticed the people began to wear the 
" Beluko, or regular Highland kilt of broad-cloth, serge, or native material. The poor 
have no other garment ; those aspiring to swelldom twist around it all manner of 
cloths, from fine muslin to thick calico, and produce a prodigious domework. In 
Benin, the perfect figure of man is light built and nude to the waist, whilst all below 
the skirts fills out with more amplitude than crinoline ; it is exactly the shape of a 
handbell" (p. 283).^ 

There are some curious statements about the requirements of royal permission 
before the people are allowed to wear clothing. Thus D. R. tells us : *' Maidens and 
boys all go perfectly nude^ until they marry or are otherwise disposed of, or that the 
king grants them license to put on some ornament or dress ; then they become very 
cheerful and rejoice very much at the friendship and benevolence of the king which 
he has shown and proved to them ; they then ornament and bedeck their bodies to 
the utmost, paint and daub themselves with white earth or colour, and hold a great 
festival ; they sit in their houses in great splendour and magnificence, and many 
people then come to them and congratulate them as if they were a bride." So too, 
according to Dapper, " No man is allowed to wear any dress at all at court before 
he has been clothed by the king ; nor let his hair grow before this has been done. 
There are men at the King's court, twenty and twenty-four years old, who, with- 
out any semblance of shame go about naked, only wearing a chain of corals or jasper 
round their necks. But when the King gives them clothes, he usually presents them 
at the same time with a wife, thus making them from boys to men. After this time 
they always wear clothes and let their hair grow without being obliged to shave it off 
with a knife any more. Likewise, the women are not allowed to wear clothes, unless 
they have been provided with them by their husbands. So you can see there, women 
of twenty and twenty-five years going along the streets perfectly nude without show- 
ing any shame. But when the man wishes to clothe her he has a house built for her, 
and cohabits with her, as with the other wives." Nyendael echoes this : "Almost all the 
children go naked ; the boys till they are ten or twelve years old, and the girls till 
they arrive at puberty ; till then they wear nothing but some strings of corals twisted 
about their middles, which is not sufficient for purposes of decency." 

We have seen above Dapper's reference to copper bangles worn by women 
round their arms. Nyendael also refers to them : " The women wear necklaces of 
coral very nicely arranged, their arms are covered with bright copper or iron rings as 
are also the legs pi some of them, and their fingers are as thickly crowded with 
copper rings as they can possibly wear them." Speaking likewise of the 
women. Burton records: "The favourite ornaments were some threescore iron rings, 
some of them wires, others of heavier make round their left wrist ; on the right was 
a twist of brass, or a broad arabesque Benin bracelet ; whilst under the knee a garter 

1 According to Dapper, at Warri the native's dress is like that of Benin, " but they also wear some 
fine cotton or silk clothes (which those of Benin are not allowed to do) as large as small sheets, 
fastening them above the navel, with a cunning knot under the arms." 

2 In Mr. C. Punch's time, parents used voluntarily to give their boys to the king. They then 
went naked, but had a brass anklet to show they were king's property. They were not at once taken 
to the king's quarters. 

The Appcavance of the People. 


of small Indian cowries set off the leg." (p. 410). At Gwato he refers to shark's teeth 
as a chief's wife's ornament, (p. 419).- 

The use of coral, or what passed for such, and beads seems to have been extremely 
popular in the Benin country. Adams (p. 1 1 1) found " coral a very favourite ornament 
in the royal seraglio." The War Captain's wives in Beauvais' time had coral worked into 

Fig. 14. — Bronze head showing coral head gear and the stiff 
collar mentioned by Burton. Height i3|in. (340 mm.) Liverpool 

meshes of hair (p. 147). He also mentions fiadors of one, two, and three row coral 
necklaces distinguishing their rank, and the War Captain wearing a three row neck- 

1 Of the Ijos, Burton says : " The dress of the men is the usual loin-cloth ; their wives add to it 
an upper veil, which is thrown loosely round the shoulders. The favourite ornament in this part of 
the world is coral ; not in beads, but in long pieces like bits of ' churchwarden ' stem [long clay pipe 
stems] . A string of these articles is a regal present. The darker the colour and the larger the piece, 
the better, and a good bunch will fetch a puncheon or two of palm oil. Other ornaments are big 
pewter bracelets, or brass after the Benin fashion, huge rings of rudely cut ivory round the wrist and 
ankles, wire collars, and thin ropes of braided seed-bead, especially blue, various large porcelain 
beads, small linked brass chains round the ankles, and strings of Indian cowries. Children's legs are 
girt with small brass bells, probably for fetish reasons." (p, 147). Later on, (p. 157) he complains of 
" their barbarous hankering after the cast off finery of Europe." 

26 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvovs. 

lace. The * big men ' seen at a court function by Burton had each " his anklets and 
collar of coral, a very quaint decoration, composed of pieces of about one inch long, 
and so tightly strung that it forms a stiff circle about a foot in diameter." This 
method of wearing the coral is shown on the large bronze heads and plaques. Fawckner 
makes frequent references to the coral ornaments. At Mongwe, where he was ship- 
wrecked, he tells us, " the chief's head was covered with coral beads, thickly strung on 
his black curly wool ; his neck, ankles, and wrists were also encircled with a profusion 
of strings of coral. Some of the natives who had come with him, had a single string 
round their necks" (p. 5). At Gwato (ihid p. 71) "the chiefs wore coral round the 
neck, arms, and wrists, but none on the head as we first noticed at Yarcella." 
Landolphe says of the king, " his neck, arms and ankles were surrounded by 
a quantity of large strings of coral. On this occasion he wore a net shirt of which 
each knot was furnished with a coral bead ; it weighed more than twenty pounds, for 
the king made me test it" (II. 59). Besides the necklace which the king wears on 
state occasions, he also wears a belt of coral (Fawckner.) Burton speaks of the 
coral bracelets which " adorned" the King's wrists. Every heir to the throne in his 
father's life time had to make for him a coral hat and vest, and Adubowa showed 
Mr. Punch the ones he had made for Adola. Mr. Punch does not think that any of the 
articles enumerated above by Fawckner, Landolphe, etc., were coral : a chain of 
European coral was worn round the neck, but the official rings of beads on wire worn 
by king's boys, etc., were of the Benin agate. 

During one of Landolphe's visits to Benin, he gave the War Captain a string 
of coral worth 300 francs (;^i2), and some French officers gave the king a big string 
worth 1800 francs {£']'2) (II., pp. 42, 93). The wearing of coral was a royal 
privilege, which the king conferred on his subjects.^ Where the office of the 
holder was not hereditary, as for instance, with the fiadors, the bunches of coral had 
to be returned to the king on the holder's decease (Landolphe II., p. 53). According 
to Bold, coral beads " are the intrinsic treasures of the rich, being held in the highest 
estimation, and from their rarity, are only in the hands of a few chiefs, whose avidity 
for them is immeasurable ; the species admired are the pipe beads of various dimen- 
sions, and are valued at ten large jars of oil an ounce, of the smaller sort, and so on 
in proportion for the larger sized." Mr. Punch informs me that " as a matter of fact, 
the King of Benin had few, if any, of the large coral beads such as Nana, Dore, 
Dudu, and the Jekri chiefs obtained from the merchants in Benin River. His coral 
was insignificant pipe coral, and was only striking when made up into vests and hats. 
The Binis valued more the agate beads, and especially the dull kind. A necklet of 
this dull agate was a king's gift, and no one could wear such a necklet, unless it were 
given him by the king. It was death, in fact, to wear it otherwise. The shiny 
chrystalline agate, with white quartz veins, anyone could use. Such coral as the Binis 
had was obtained through Jekri traders, either from the Benin River or Lagos. The 
Binis said it was dug up at the ' back of Benin,' but everything, in the days I am 
speaking of, 14-15 years ago, which was at all mysterious came from the back of Benin." 

Nyendael describes the coral beads as made of " pale red coctile earth or stone 
and very well glazed," and says they are very like " speckled red marble." While no 
doubt the material of which the so-called coral beads are made varies, all the beads 
which have come into my hands are either red coral or agate beads, the former 
having the characteristic structure and composition of coral, while the latter show the 

1 See Government. 

The Appearance of the People. 27 

concentric zones of chalcedony, some red and some white. Vast numbers of artificial 
beads go to the African market, but the above specimens are all natural. At the 
famous agate works at Oberstein in Rhenish Bavaria, large numbers of trivial orna- 
mental articles are specially made for the African trade. In Burton's time the red 
coral was brought from the Mediterranean.^ 

So far, that is about all we can gather of personal ornaments from the travellers. 
As regards the ornaments which have come into my hands, I here reprint the following 
remarks which I published in the Bulletin of the Philadelphia Museum: 

The chief feature of the personal ornaments is their variety, yet the specimens 
illustrated are by no means specially chosen, but are only such as have come under my 
immediate notice. Another feature is the play upon the patterns ; thus in Fig. 15, we have 
the same pattern as in No. 17, but adapted in a different way, and at the same time 
reduced so that we get quite a different bracelet. Similarly with the bracelets in Figs. 
16 and 18 ; here the large loop which forms almost one-third of Fig. 16, is reduced, 
multiplied and set on vertically, instead of horizontally, with the result that quite a 
different ornament is produced. Spirals, as a basis for design, are not uncommon ; 
in Fig. 1 9 we have a spiral or coil in its simplest form ; in Fig. 20 we have a double 
coil which itself is formed of an alternate spiral of copper and brass ; in Fig. 21 the 
twist of the angular spiral is quite a novelty, while in Fig 22 the spirals are 
set on the ring at intervals. Some of the bracelets are furnished with studs set with 
agate or coral, which appears to be fixed in position by some sort of mastic or gum ; 
Fig. 24 is very similar to Fig. 23, but has barrel-like enlargements between the 
studs ; the body of Fig. 25 differs from those of Figs 23 and 24 in being flat inside 
and out, and in being wider, while the other two have the body flat inside and convex 
outside ; in Fig. 26, which appears to consist of two parallel rings soldered together, 
the place of the stud is taken by four heads surrounded by beads, and four guilloche 
patterns (very faint) placed alternately. Fig. 27 represents plaited work, a very 
common form of ornamentation in Benin and West Africa generally. The hoop 
represented in Fig. 28 may not be a bracelet at all, but may form part of a chain, as 
there is in this collection another ring of the same pattern, but oval in shape ; the 
ornamentation, a sort of debased fish scale, is the same on both sides. 

The snake heads in Fig. 20 may not be anything beyond a desire to finish 
the ends artistically ; but in Figs. 29 and 30, two of the symbols of the natives' 
belief form the motif of the design, in the former as the double catfish, in the 

^At Warri " the actual crown of the sovereign is a sort of large cap in the shape of a cone three 
feet high, covered with coral beads and with a couple of birds' heads on top " (King). " Some of the 
Jekri chiefs display a very fair show of wealth, which usually takes the form of silks, coral, gold and 
silver ornaments, all specially ordered for them by the white traders. I have seen Nana (late chief 
of Brohoemi) with seven or eight hundred pounds worth of coral on him " (Gallwey, p. 127). Lander 
writing at Bussa says, " The demand for coral has been very great in every town of consequence 
which we have visited. All ranks of people appear passionately fond of wearing it, and it is 
preferred to every other ornament whatever" (II. p. 4). It was also worn by the king's women in 
Dahomey (Norris, p. 112). King Obi of Ibo on the Lower Niger wore " On his neck three strings 
of pipe coral, as large as a man's small finger ; two of which were short, and close to the neck, while 

the third extended to the navel each of his ankles was ornamented with eight strings of coral, 

a dull old brass button closing each string, and two leopard's teeth attached to the strings of coral on 
each foot " (Crowther, Lond. 1842, p. 283). 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horvors. 

Fig. 15— h- 
In Science and Art Museum, Philadelphia 

Fig. 16. — \. In Science and Art Museum, Philadelphia. 

Fig. 17.— i- 

Fig. 18. — \. In Science and Art Museum, Philadelphia. 

Fig. 19.— i 
In Major Copeland-Crawford's Collection. 

Fig. 20. — ^. In Science and Art Museum, Philadelphia- 

Fig. 21. — ^. In the late Miss M. H. Kingsley's 
Collection, now in Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. 

Fig. 23.—^. 
In Major Copeland-Crawford's Collection. 

Fig. 24.-~A. 
In Major Copeland-Crawford's Collection. 

The Appearance of the People, 


Fig. 25 —A. 
In. Major Copeland-Crawford's Collection. 

Fig. 22. — ^ 

Fig. 26. — \. 
In Major Copeland-Crawford's Collection. 

Fis. I'j.- — ^. In the late Miss M. H. Kingsley's 
Collection, now in Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, 

Fig. 28.— .;l. 
In Science and Art Museum, Philadelphia, 

Fig. 29. — ^. 
In Science and Art Museum, Philadelphia. 

Fig. 30. — \. In the late Miss M. H. Kingsley's 
Collection, now in Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

latter as catfish (usually snakes) issuing from the nostrils of a human face. This 
bracelet (Fig. 30) is of copper, and overlaid (excepting the two faces and catfishes) 
with a brass plate about one millimeter thick, and is massive and rough ; the catfishes 
are fixed on by means of holes drilled in the nostrils and into the sides of the fore- 
head. Extremely curious is the bracelet Fig. 31, apparently made of short pieces of 
copper tubing soldered into the form of a chain and furnished with slits ; as the 
bracelet passed through the conflagration which destroyed the city it is not now 
possible to ascertain what had been inserted into these receptacles. A very curious 
finger ring is illustrated in Fig. 32. It is inset with agate along the central horizontal 
position and with carved coral along the crosspieces ; the upright cylindrical pieces, like 

Fig. 31. — ^. In the late Miss M. H. Kingsley's 
Collection, now in Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. 


FiG. 33. Fig. 34. Fig. 35. 

In Science and Art Museum, 


Fig. 32. — J. In Science and Art Museum, Philadelphia. 

the pin Fig. 34, are hollow at the top for the reception of some inset, and originally 
it may have been glass, as in the top of pin Fig. 33. Dr. Forbes (Bulletin of 
Liverpool Museum, I, 50) in describing the spots of a bronze leopard, says they are 
filled in with a yellow, porcellaneous glass or enamel, applied in a fused condition, 
but I venture to differ from my friend, the Doctor, as to me the inserted matter looks 
more like dry putty. However the question cannot be settled until a chemical or 
physical examination is made. The pin (Fig 35) is inset with coral. What the 
porpoise-like article shown in Fig. 36 is meant to be is not clear ; it may be a pen- 
dant to wear suspended from the neck and perhaps was intended for a whistle. 

A few gold-plated ornaments have been found in Benin, but, so far as I am 
aware, only two gold ornaments ; this is strange, for surely plating is a more difficult 
process than casting or working ; it is very certain the plating has been done 
elsewhere. Fig. 37 does not call for special remark beyond referring to the neatly- 
finished points. In Fig. 38 is represented a pendant, perhaps of fetish value ; the 
lizards are concave underneath, as shown by the section ; the hawk's bell is attached 
to the lizards by means of a curious ring, shaped out of a thin piece of metal and rolled 
up into the shape of a tube, the ring being closed by the insertion of one end into the 
other. Figs. 39 and 40 appear to be pendants. The gold ornaments brought home 

The Appearance of the People. 


by Dr. AUman were a " bracelet formed by a double-headed snake grasping between 
its jaws a decapitated human head, and a snake about nine inches long." In Mr. C. 
Punch's time, gold was simply not appreciated, or only counted as brass ; king or 
nobles, in making a selection, would voluntarily prefer a silver to a gold ornament. 

While the workmanship of the articles illustrated is, generally speaking, good, 
it is not, as a rule, equal to that of the large Bini metal work ; this is no doubt due 
to the greater difficulty presented by the smaller surfaces on which the artisans have 
had to work. 

Fig. 37. — \. In Dr. Allman's Collection. 

Fig. 36.—^. 

In Science and Art Museum 


Fig. 39— i 

In Dr. Allman's 


Fig. 38 — J. In Dr. Allman's Collection. 

Fig. 40. — \. 

In Dr Allman's 


We now come to a curious class of objects — namely, the long armlets and leglets 
which are so fashionable in West Africa. They are made of carved ivory (Figs. 41, 
42) of brass (Figs. 43, 44, and 45), and of copper with some of the masks in brass 
(Fig. 44). It is said these articles are put on when the individual is quite young and 
not taken off until death, if then; in the event of removal, the foot or hand 
has frequently to be chopped off first. The ivory bracelets are old and much 
worn down, that illustrated in Fig. 41 especially so. In Fig. 42 a European 
is probably intended to be shown; the three heads shown alternately with the 
tortoises in Fig. 41 are also meant to be those of Europeans, but, looked at from the 


Great Benin — Us Customs, Art and Horrors. 

,» -^ ■ 

Fig. 41. — Ivory. 130 mm. high. 
In Mr. R. K. Granville's Collection. 

Fig. 42. — Ivory. 

Fig. 43. — Brass. 145 mm. high. 
In Mr. R. K. Granville's Collection. 

Fig. 44. — Copper Armlets, with Brass Masks. 

The Appearance oj the People. 33 

left side, they look like bullock heads, the side hair developing into horns. Fig. 43 
is an elegantly finished production and a good example of Bini art, and is provided 
with loops for the hawk bells, which turn up everywhere in unexpected places 
throughout Bini metal work. The bracelet (Fig. 42) is interesting as exhibiting a 
conventionalized leopard's face on the top as well as a European's face at the bottom, 
likewise developing into a form of ornament. In bracelet (Fig. 46) some of the disks 
are blank, e\idently awaiting the enchaser's tool ; it also shows a hawk bell in situ. 
The fertility in design is in all these forms manifest indeed, it is a feature in the art 
of the Benin natives which any of our jewellers might do well to copy. 

Fig. 45. — Brass, roughly cast. 90 mm. diam.; 
136 mm. high; 2 mm. thick. In the late Miss 
M. H. Kingsley's Collection, now in Pitt 
Rivers Museum., Oxford. 

Fig. 46. — Unfinished Brass. The three discs 
evidently waiting for the enchaser. 89 mm. diam.; 
136 mm. high ; i mm. thick. In the late Miss 
M. H. Kingsley's Collection, now in Pitt 
Rivers Museum, Oxford. 

According to D. R., "They also cut their body from the armpits to about the 
groin, or in the middle, with three large cuts on both sides, each cut being one finger 
broad, and consider this a great virtue conducive to their salvation." These marks 
are made when the children are quite young, for as Nyendael tells us "they make 
small incisions all over the bodies of the infants, in a sort of regular manner express- 
ing some figures thereby ; but the females are more adorned with these ornaments 
than the males, and each at pleasure of their parents. You may easily guess that 
this mangling of the bodies of these tender creatures must be very painful ; but since 
it is the fashion here, and is thought very ornamental, it is practiced by everybody." 


Great Benin — lis Cttstonis, Art and Horrors. 

Of this process, Mr. C. Punch tells me " it was simply brutal. All girls had to 
undergo it. The child was laid down and held by the mother, and the expert pro- 
ceeded to scrape the skin at the places required, with a sharp glass, very lightly, as 
one erases a blot of ink on a book. I was not told that anything was rubbed 
in to raise the skin, as the Jekris did, but the child's sufferings were acute." 
Burton in comparing the Ijos with the Bini, remarks: "The Ijos are nearly all free- 
men, and therefore they greatly resemble one another. The tribe-mark in both sexes 
is a line extending from the scalp down the forehead to the tip of the nose, made with 
a razor or a sharp knife, and blackened with charcoal or gunpowder. It is opened 
and reopened till a long, thin frenum, or bridle as it were, draws up the skin at the 
bridge of the nose, and gives a peculiar expression to the countenance. The people of 
Benin have a similar mark, but it is not raised, and it often ceases at the eyebrows. 
Men and women have on each cheek three, short, parallel cuts, sometimes straight, 
sometimes crescent-shaped. Another favourite decoration are three broad stripes of 
scar, like the effects of burning, down the front of the body from the chest to the 
lower stomach. Lastly, the skin is adorned with 'beauty berries,' buttons of raised 
flesh that much resemble exanthemata." (pp. 146 & 7). Of the Bini women he says. . . 
" The general mark was a tattoo of three parallel cuts about half an inch long, and 
placed close together upon both cheeks about half way between the eye and the 
corner of the mouth. Some added to these ' beauty-spots ' on the middle of the fore- 
head, vertical lines of similar marks above the eyebrows, and three stripes, or rather 
broad shallow scars, from above the breast to the stomach." (pp. 410-11). At Gwato 
" The tattoo is a broad line of scars extending down the breast and stomach." [ibid, p. 

The marks of the cicatrisation are clearly shown on nearly all the faces 
in bronze or wood^ made by^^^the Bini. 


Figs, 47 and 48. — Front and back view of brass showing tribal marks on forehead ; pupils 
of eyes are iron inset; height 7^in. (19 cm.) Bankfield Museum, Halifax. 

1 At Warri, in Dapper's time, "All natives, men and women, are marked with three cuts, each 
cut a diiim [less than an inch] wide, one on the forehead, above the nose, and one on each side of the 
eyes on the temples." 


No ceremony at birth — Feast to scare away evil spirits — Circumcision of both sexes — Destruction of 
twins — Twins a good omen — Mother and twins destroyed at Arebo — Specified cases — Destruc- 
tion introduced at Gwato (36) — Children exposed in pots — Twins welcome amongst Fantis — 
Destruction of twins at Bonny, Onitsha, Cross River, Abo and elsewhere — Marriage — Polygamy 
of the king and noblemen (37) — Inheritance of a father's wives — Eunuchs — White men's difficulties 
— Widows' position — Girls married at twelve years — Distribution of women by the king — Forced 
courtesans — Freedom on giving birth to a son — Great and little courtesans — Continence until 
child walks — Method of marriage — Bridegroom demands girl in marriage (38) — Handsome presents 
given — Feasting — Marriage before arrival at puberty — Jealousy of native men — Men kept from 
women's apartments — Women offered to Europeans — Greater freedom of poor men's wives — 
Wives retire on arrival of visitor — Punishment for adultery (39) — Husband claims paramour's 
effects — Women driven from home — Women with powerful relations pardoned — Death 
penalty inflicted in case of governor's wives — Ordeal for adultery — Punishment for rape — 
Periodical sickness — Number of king's wives (40) — Eunuchs — Fathers dispose of female children 
only — Gifts of wives — Royal prerogative — Effect of ' pardon ' wine — Obscene talk — Fruitful 
women honoured. 

According to Landolphe there was no sort of ceremony at birth (II., p. 50). 
According to Nyendael, " When the child is seven days old, the parents make a 
small feast, imagining that the infant is past its greatest danger ; and in order to 
prevent the evil spirits from doing it any mischief they strew all the ways with 
dressed victuals to appease them. Eight or fourteen days, or sometimes longer, after 
the birth of their children, both males and females are circumcised ; the former are 
thereby bereft of their prepuce and the latter of a small portion of their clitoris. If 
they are asked who first taught them circumcision, and to believe women to be 
periodically unclean, they reply, that they do not themselves know, but that these 
customs are traditionally handed to them by their ancestors. And this is the common 
answer of all the blacks." D.R. also states that girls as well as boys are circumcised. 

" No twins are ever found in the country, but as may be supposed, they are born 
as well as elsewhere, for it is suspected that either of them is every time choked by 
the midwife, the giving birth to twins being considered as a great dishonour in the 
country, for they firmly believe that one man cannot be the father of two children at 
the same time " (Dapper). 

This is a very different state of affairs from that related by Nyendael : " If a 
woman bear two children at a birth, it is believed to be a good omen, and the king is 
immediately informed thereof, and he causes public joy to be expressed with all sorts 
of music. The father imagining it too heavy a task for the woman to suckle both 
the children, searches out a wetnurse whose child is dead ; whom he persuades by 
the power of money or good words to nurse one of his children. In all parts of the 
Benin territories, twin-births are esteemed good omens, except at Arebo, where they 
are of the contrary opinion, and treat the twin-bearing woman very barbarously ; for 
they actually kill both mother and infants, and sacrifice them to a certain devil. 

36 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvors. 

which they fondly imagine harbours in a wood near the village. But if the man 
happens to be more than ordinarily tender, he generally buys off his wife, by sacrific- 
ing a female slave in her place ; but the children are without possibility of redemption 
obliged to be made the satisfactory offerings which this savage law requires. In the 
year 1699, a merchant's wife commonly called ellavoe or mof, lay-in of two children, 
and her husband redeemed her with a slave, but sacrificed his children. After which 
I had frequent opportunities of seeing and talking with the disconsolate mother, who 
never could see an infant without a very melancholy reflection on the fate of her own, 
which always extorted briny tears from her. The following year the like event 
happened to a priest's wife. She was delivered of two children, which, with a slave, 
instead of his wife, he was obliged to kill and sacrifice with his own hands, by reason 
of his sacerdotal function ; and exactly one year after, as though it had been a 
punishment inflicted from heaven, the same woman was the second time delivered of 
two children, but how the priest managed himself on this occasion, I have not been 
informed, but am apt to think that this poor woman was forced to atone for her 
fertility by death. These dismal events have in process of time made such 
impressions on the men that, when the time of their wives' delivery approaches, they 
send them to another country ; which makes me believe that for the future they will 
correct these inhumanities." 

About 120 years later Lieut. King tells of "the barbarous custom of exposing 
twins which formerly existed at Arebo, lat. 5°58', long. 5°io', has now introduced itself 
at Gatto ; the children are placed in an earthen pot face upwards and allowed to 
perish on the top of a hill" (p. 313).^ 

5, At Ondo which borders on Benin teritory the twins were exposed under pots 
in the Oro fetish groves. The mothers from superstitious motives are as anxious to 
carry out the rites as the priests. We have much trouble in suppressing this evil 
custom" (C. Punch). 

1 " Attah is the Fantee name for twin, and all twins born in Fantee, bear that name, the mothers 
of whom are held in much estimation for being thus prolific. In Bonny the reverse takes place, 
for there the mothers of twins are compared to goats, and they, as well as their offspring, are not 
unfrequently destroyed" (Adams, p. 37). At Bonny in Crow's time mother and twins were put to 
death (p. 238). A former resident of Onitsha on the Lower Niger, informs me " Twins are objected 
to and both are killed in the Ibo country. The killing is brought about by placing the children in a 
large earthen pot which is then carried into a part of the bush which is tabued and called tonton. 
The children are soon killed by the ants and other flesh devouring insects. Passing Europeans 
hearing the wailing of the children have carried them off, but in most cases the exposure had already 
been too much and they succumbed. A child so rescued and surviving would, if a girl, experience 
difficulty in getting married for fear she have twins. Bishop Hill in traversing a piece of bush which 
the natives had made over to him for missionary purposes, found a tonton with over 200 pots 
which had contained babies. The natives would not assist to clear the spot." Bennett (Niger 
Notes iii., p. 67) hearing of a child being left exposed to die, went in the evening by the light of the 
half moon to find it ; he writes : " At first we thought the baby was dead as we heard no sound, but, 
after groping in the dark and touching it with my hand, it cried, so we knew it was alive. We broke 
the pot by which it was covered." The description of the method of destruction is unfortunately 
not clear, for if the pot covered the child how could it be touched with the hand before uncovering ? 
In the Brass district the younger twin is killed and the woman counted unclean. Miss Kingsley gives 
a graphic and painful account of a case of twins with which Miss Slesser at Okijou had once to do 
(Travels, pp. 473-6), for had not Miss Slessor interfered, the mother would have been an outcast, and 
the children both killed. Allen and Thomson mention the destruction of twins and the disgrace of 
the mother at Abo, on the Niger (Narr. Niger River, Lend., 1848, I, pp. 243-4). Schon (p. 49) also 
mentions the destruction of twins at Ibo. 

Childbivth and Mavviage. 37 

We are told by D.R. that " the King has many wives," and that when twice a 
year he makes a progress through the city " He is accompanied by all his wives, 
which may be above six hundred in number, who, however, are not all his wedded 
wives but his concubines. It is the custom of the country that a man should have 
many wives, for the noblemen have often some eighty or ninety or even more,^ 
and there is no man so poor but that he has ten or twelve wives at the least, from 
which one may conclude that in this place one finds more women than bachelors and 
men." From Dapper we learn, " The King has a great number of wives, actually 
more than a thousand ; for at his father Kambadge's death, he inherited all his 
father's maiden wives ; for his concubines are not allowed to marry again, being shut 
up in a convent, and guarded by the eunuchs ; if one of these women came to forget 
herself, she would be immediately killed with her paramour. Every man marries as 
many wives as he likes and is able to feed, besides keeping a great number of concu- 
bines. They are exceedingly uxorious, but a white man or a Christian can hardly 
get a public woman there in the country for fear of punishment, as such a thing is 
prohibited under a penalty of death. The woman, who has had a son by her 
deceased husband becomes servant to her son, and is not given in marriage to 
another man but must serve him as a slave, not being allowed to marry a man with- 
out her son's leave. If it happens that a man wishes to marry such a widow, he 
asks her son for her hand, promising him another young girl in her stead for him to 
marry, which young girl must remain his slave as long as he likes. The son is not 
allowed to do away with the woman or the old mother, should he wish to do so, with- 
out the King's leave. A daughter js not given in marriage by the father there till 
she is twelve or fourteen years old, after which time the father has no more to do 
with her. All the women who have lived with their husbands are allotted to the 
King after their husbands' or owners' death ; but of the other women, some go to the 
son, and some are accepted as wives by others. It also happens sometimes that 
the King does not give these women in marriage again, but makes courtesans of 
them, and they have to offer a yearly tribute of a certain number of cowries. Having 
no fear of the rule of a husband they choose as many suitors as they like, and without 
any restraint give way to their passions, although they sometimes do the same when 
married. These courtesans, when giving birth to a son in unmarried state, are freed 
of the tribute by the fact, but if it is a daughter, then the King gives her (the 
daughter) in marriage to some one. There are also great courtesans to whom the 
inferior ones have to give account every year, just as the great ones have to do this 
to the great Fiadores or State-councillors, who only show their income to the King.^ 
A man keeps away from his wife when she has risen from child-bed, until the 
child is a year or a year and a half old, and can walk, but she knows how to make up 
for it in the meantime ; if the husband happens to perceive it, he makes a complaint 
of it to the Fiadores." 

Mr. C. Punch tells me that "in Benin city public women were not common, a state 
of affairs very different to what existed in the surrounding countries. In Benin no 
woman would ever dare to offer herself, nor would she cohabit with a European 
without the king's license. The legitimate daughters of a king did not marry anyone 
but bestowed their favours as they pleased." 

1 A man's wealth is estimated by the number of his wives (Landolphe II, p. 58). 

^ At Dahomy there were public women who paid a heavy tax, brewed beer and raised pouhry, 
(Norris, p. 99). In towns like Benin and Abomey where the kings claimed all the women such an 
institution would be unavoidable. 

38 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horvovs. 

From Nyendael we learn, " The men here marry as many women as their 
circumstances will allow them to keep ; they ha\"e scarce any, or at most very few 
marriage-ceremonies amongst their poor or rich, except only that the rich treat the 
bride's friends more splendidly than the poor do. Their marriages are commonly 
made in the following manner. If a man like a maiden he mentions his wish to one 
of the most considerable amongst his relations, who repairs to her house and asks her 
of her relations, who, if she be not before promised, seldom deny his request. The 
consent then of the relations or parents being obtained the match goes on, and the 
bridegroom covers his future bride with a rich suit of clothes, necklaces and bracelets, 
and after having handsomely treated the relations on both sides, the wedding is ended 
without any further ceremony. The acknowledgment mentioned is not made at the 
house of the bridegroom, or indeed any other ; but the victuals and drink are dressed 
and prepared, and everyone has his portion sent home." Similarly Landolphe tells 
us " there is no marriage ceremony. A young man desirous of getting married 
demands the girl from her parents, who rarely refuse ; he gives them one or several 
pieces of cloth and takes his wife home. If she be too young and show no sign of 
puberty, the husband confides her to the supervision of the women, who notify him 
when the marriage should be consummated, which is at the age of eleven or twelve 
years " (II, p. 50). 

" The negroes are very jealous of their Avives with their own countrymen, but 
not in the least with respect to us ; for they are very little concerned at our conversing 
with their wives, whether we chaff, sit, or lie by them, provided we keep within the 
bounds of modesty ; nay, they have entertained so good an opinion of us, that when we 
visit them, if their affairs call them away, they not only leave us alone with them, but 
recommend us to their wives for diversion whilst they are out " (Nyendael). Elsewhere, 
the same traveller observes, "the women behave themselves very obligingly to all ; but 
more especially the Europeans, except the Portuguese, whom they do not like very well,^ 
but our nation is very much in their favour. But no male negro is allowed to come 
near the women's apartment, which is a custom very strictly observed by them." 
Burton (p. 155) found the people of Warri and Benin " touchy about and jealous of 
their wives even with foreigners, and amongst themselves fighting always follows a 
suspicion of dishonour. On the other hand they are no less free with the other 
members of the family, sisters and daughters, and they appear to take offence if these 
ornaments of the house are not duly admired." They were freely offered to Burton's 
party but declined. 

" All the difference between the wives of the great and those of the meaner sort," 
says Nyendael, " is that the latter go everywhere where their work obliges them, but the 
former are almost always shut up very closely, to obviate all occasions for transgression. 
If a man be in his own house, accompanied by some of his wives, and receives a visit 
from any of his acquaintance, the wives immediately retire to another part of the 
house, that they may not be seen ; but if the visitors are Europeans, they continue 
with their husbands, being requested to do so by the latter, whom they use all their 
arts to please, because their happiness depends on them, for the men are here 
absolute masters of their wives." 

1 That the European nationalities do not love one another is also shown by some of the carvings, 
where they are depicted fighting against each other. When the French were repulsed from 
Anamabu by the English in 1749, they said the natives would have preferred the French (Labarthe 
p. 68). Landolphe not obtaining a concession he wanted, puts his non-success down to previous 
treatment meted out to the Bini by the Dutch (II, p. 95). 

Childhirtli and Marriage. 39 

"Adultery is here punished in three several ways: First, amongst the com- 
monality in the following manner. If any man is suspicious of the levity of any 
one of his wives, he tries all possible means to surprise her in the fact, without 
which evidence he cannot punish her ; but if he succeed in his endeavours he is 
thereby lawfully entitled to all the effects of her paramour, whether consisting in 
slaves, cowries (their money), elephants' tusks, or any other mercantile commodity ; all 
which he may immediately seize, make full use of, occupy and enjoy as his own. The 
offending wife is very soundly cudgelled and driven out of his house to seek her 
fortune ; but no person being very fond of marrying her after this, she retires to 
another place, where she passes for a widow by way of obtaining another husband ; 
or else strives to gain a livelihood by a trade not very difficult, for her at least, to 
learn. Thus far extends the poor man's satisfaction. The rich revenge themselves 
much in the same way ; but the woman's relations, to avoid the scandal which might 
thereby accrue to their family, reconcile the offended husband with a round sum of 
money, and thereby prevail upon him to take her into favour again, which he 
generally does. The woman then passes for as virtuous as before, and takes her 
turn with the other wives. The Governors punish adultery more severely ; for if 
they surprise any man with one of their wives, they kill both the wife and paramour on 
the very spot where the crime is committed, and throw their dead bodies into the 
dunghill to be exposed as a prey to wild beasts. These severe punishments amongst 
all ranks of people deter men from meddling with other people's wives so much, that 
adultery is very seldom committed here " (Nyendael). Landolphe states that " a woman 
accused of adultery is brought before the judges, who make her kneel down in a 
public locality, where two chalk circles are drawn in which she places her big toes. 
Two full pots in front of her contain what is known as good and bad fetish ; if on 
being ordered to acknowledge her crime she pleads guilty, she is given the bad fetish 
to drink and is poisoned. If she pleads not guilty her tongue is rubbed with a herb, 
the juice of which makes it swell suddenly and protrude out of her mouth. A cock's 
feather is then passed through it. If the accused persists in denying the charges and 
there are not sufficient witnesses to convict her, the feather is withdrawn from the 
tongue, which is rubbed over with some fresh herb of which the sudden effect is to 
reduce it painlessly to its natural state. The woman then drinks the good fetish and 
goes her way " (II, pp. 65-66). This looks much like a case of ordeal which has not 
been properly understood by Landolphe's editor. 

" The man who commits a rape is at once considered married to the girl ; if the 
assault has been committed at night the two are proclaimed as married as soon as 
daylight appears — they are united by this simple formality. If the girl be too young 
to bear child the man is fined, as his action is considered criminal "(Landolphe II, p. 50). 
*' Sick women are not permitted so much as to enter their husband's houses, or to touch 
anything, either to dress the food or clean the house, or indeed to enter on any other 
account ; nor are they permitted so much as to look into, much less enter any 
houses, but during this period are obliged to reside in a separate house^ ; though as 
soon as that is over and they have washed themselves, they are restored to their 
former state " (Nyendael). " It is also criminal to cohabit during a wife's periodical 
sickness, or when the woman is enceinte, or with milk. In the first case the woman 
retires to some distance where special houses are provided for her, and does not 
return until after purification by bathing, and the man who has cohabited in such 
case is likewise bound to purify himself to avoid penalty" (Landolphe, II, p. 50). 

* This is also the case with the Jekries (Granville and Roth, Jour. Anth. Inst, xxviii., p. no). 

40 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors, 

In Lieut. King's time the King of Benin was " said to possess 4000 wives, but 
he gives some away to those who have done him some service." This number is a 
big increase on D.R.'s 600 wives, Dapper's 1000, and Landolphe's 3000 (I, p, 335). The 
latter says every wife is waited on by three negresses, while a Captain of Eunuchs 
looks after them ; their houses are in a row like factories. " On one occasion when 
the wives were told to dance the king cried for joy, while " the severe looks of the 
eunuchs contrasted strangely with the emotion of the sovereign" {ihid). Burton 
mentions that " a eunuch of the palace called upon us. He was a little beardless old 
man, clad in a tremendous petticoat ; and he assumed considerable dignity, speaking 
of the head Fiador as of a very common person. The abominable institution 
is rare in Africa, and when found is borrowed from Asia. At Benin the habit of 
secluding the king's women has probably introduced these guardians of the harem " 
(Burton p. 412).^ 

"When a male infant is born it is presented to the king, as properly and of right 
belonging to him, and hence all the males of the land are called the king's slaves ; but 
the females belong to the father, and live at home as long as he likes, till they are of 
age, after which he marries them when and to whom he pleases " (Nyendael). 

" People in high positions like the ' big m.en,' the fiadors and the passadors receive 
as gifts girls ranging from four to eight years of age. These children remain in 
special apartments under the supervision of the old women. The monarch sends his 
girls to the ' big men,' the latter send theirs to the fiadors, who treat the passadors in 
the same way. As soon as the girls arrive at a marriageable age they are dressed in the 
finest raiment and presented to their husbands" (Landolphe, II, pp. 50-52). "At Benin 
there is a law that only the King must supply matrimony. He generally provides the 
stranger with one of his daughters, whom he reckons by ' tallies,' and he charges a 
right royal price " (Burton, p. 409). This statement bears out those of the earlier 
writers. When Gallwey states " A man may take unto himself as many wives as he 
likes " (p. 129) he probably means that there was no limit to the number of wives a 
man might have, but subject to the King's approval.^ 

" The negroes are very libidinous, which they ascribe to their ' pardon '-wine, and 
good eating, which invigorates nature : they are indeed much in the right as to the 
latter, but I never could observe any such virtue in the former. They are not 
obscene in a broad way in their talk, but anyone who can turn a deft expression in 
the matter is considered a wit. That the population increases is not very hard to 
believe, since the women are not barren, and the men are vigorous ; the latter have 
the advantage of a choice out of their great number of wives, of whom for their 
encouragement, the fruitful woman is highly valued, whilst the barren woman is 
despised " (Nyendael). 

1 Hugh Crow (Memoirs, Lond., 1830, p. 249) mentions that at a Grand Juju to which a Bonny 
man had appealed against King Pepple the judges were eunuchs. 

2 At Warri in Dapper's time, " Everybody may take as many wives here as he likes or can take, 
and sometimes the King distributes some widows." "The King of Warri, ^although not so rich in 
lands as the King of Benin, is not the less so in wives, having also 4000. Some of these women 
reside in the centre of the building, the others in the town ; as at Benin they form a portion of the 
royal treasury which the King disposes of to his faithful subjects " (Lieut. King). The King of 
Dahomey gives wives to the people ; parents have no sort of property in their children in Dahoman 
territories ; they belong entirely to the King (Norris, p. 88). 


Slaves sacrificed to serve master in next world — Festivities — Exhumation of corpses — Women's 
funerals — A female chief's human sacrifices — Preparation of body when death occurs at 
a distance — Shaving a sign of mourning (42) — Fiadors buried in sitting posture — Tomb turned 
into altar — Carved elephant tusks — Wooden rams' and bullocks' heads — Libation orifices — 
Coral necklace returned to king — Body of well-to-do man carried round village — Poor man's 
body thrown away — Vultures — Stranger's body thrown into forest — Corpses tied up in mats (43) 
King's burial in hole in ground — Desire of wives and slaves to be immolated alive — Stone 
rolled over tomb — Slow death of the victims — Fire lit on tomb — Festivities — Numerous murders — 
Vultures — Articles placed in tomb — Similar account given by Landolphe — Kings' and victims' 
bodies exhumed — Sacrifices to ensure king having servants in next world — A king's tomb — 
Carved pilasters (44) — Ivory snake. 

The dead were disposed of by means of burial unless when sacrificed. " They 
bury their dead with all their clothes on, and kill a certain number of slaves as a 
sacrifice, especially for persons of rank, in order that the latter may have their 
services in the other world, and spend seven days with dancing and playing with 
drums and other toys on the grave. They sometimes exhume the corpses, so that 
they may honour them with a fresh sacrifice of men and animals, bewailing them as 
before, with great lamentations. When a woman has died, her friends come and 
take away pots, pans, boxes and cupboards, and then go about in the streets with all 
the things on their heads, with sound of drums and other instruments, singing in 
honour of the deceased. If it is a woman of rank, a certain number of slaves is also 
killed near the grave, and put beside the corpse. It happened once that a woman, 
when /;/ extremis, ordered the slaughter of seventy-eight slaves on her grave after her 
death ; and finally, in order to make the number even, she ordered one more boy and 
one more girl to be added to the sacrifice. No person of rank or wealth dies 
there unaccompanied by bloodshed " (Dapper).^ Nyendael tells us " When 
any person dies, the corpse is washed and cleansed, and if a native of Benin 
happens to die at a very distant place,^ the body is thoroughly dried over a 

^ In Dahomey the slaughter of wives on the death of a king was very great ; the wretched women 
were put into the tomb living, with broken legs, and cautioned to treat their lord well (Labarthe 
p. 125). Of Bonny burial, Adams writes (p. 139), " Human sacrifices are common. Where a chief dies, 
many of his wives are destroyed and interred with him." "The Ejomen [Jos, Ijos] being all free, 
their funerals are long, mainly limited, in fact, by the wealth of the departed. The wake consists of 
drinking rum, drumming, dancing, and playing — in the sense of Sardanapalus the son of Anacyndar- 
axis his inscription— for seven nights and three days ; after that it is kept up every third or fourth 
day until the month expires. Six guns are fired at dawn and sunset ; also at mid-day, if the 
obsequies be those of a very great man. There are, however, no human sacrifices or customs, 
properly so called, in this tribe ; these barbarities are unknown except on occasions of settling 
important palavers " (Burton, p. 157). 

2 Lander mentions the case of deceased Badagry chiefs whose bodies were all brought to Benin. 
See Chap. I., p. 13. 

42 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

gentle fire and put into a coffin, the planks of which are closely joined with glue [sic'] , 
and brought at the first opportunity to the city for burial. But sometimes a 
convenient conveyance does not offer itself for several years ; wherefore the corpse 
is thus kept above ground for a long time, as I have seen several in my time at Arebo. 
The nearest relations, wives and slaves, go into mourning for the dead person, some 
shave their hair, others their beards, or half their heads, &c. The public mourning 
commonly lasts fourteen days. Their lamentations and cries are accommodated to 
the tunes of several musical instruments, although with long intermediate stops, 
during which they drink plentifully. And when the funeral is over, each person 
retires to his own house, and the nearest relations, who continue in mourning, bewail 
the dead in this manner for several months." 

According to Landolphe, "at the death of a great man, of a fiador or a passador, 
he is buried in the apartment he preferred most when living. Before lowering the 
corpse into its tomb it is placed on a wicker bier raised about three feet from the 
ground. A fire is lighted underneath which melts the fat and dries the body. It is 
then carried into a sort of alcove in a sitting posture. It is then built round with 
clay in the shape of an altar three feet high. On the top are placed beautiful 
elephant tusks each weighing forty to fifty pounds, well carved with images of lizards 
and snakes. These tusks are set on crudely carved wooden heads of rams or 
bullocks. I saw at least twenty tusks on one of these tombs. The chamber where 
the deceased lies is only entered once and that is on the anniversary of his death. 
All his friends and relations are present. At the foot of the tomb a small hole is 
made about 6 inches square and i8 inches deep, into which libations of palm wine 
and brandy are poured ; the kola fruit or cachew is also thrown in, after which an 
infinite number of oramns are said, which I never thoroughly understood (II., p. 53)." 
" The bunches of coral belonging to the dead are returned to the king, as his office not 
being hereditary, his children are not patented until they are twenty years of age and 
have done something useful for the state ; besides which, the favour must be 
asked for by a majority of the inhabitants of the canton of the father. The body of a 
well-to-do man is carried on a litter and is covered with a white cloth. Wallers 
follow the corpse, which is carried round the village and then buried. As to the poor 
man his body is almost thrown away. Sometimes it is thrown outside the village 
into the ditches, where a multitude of vultures devour it. These birds, as big as 
turkeys, pace the streets and it is forbidden to kill them because they hurt no one 
and destroy lizards and other reptiles [ihid I., p. 54). Of these vultures we are told by 
D.R. : " Especially do they fear the birds, and have a great abhorrence for them, and 
no man dares do them any harm in any way, for there are men purposely appointed 
to give them food, which they carry in a stately manner and with great reverence, 
which food when so carried no man may see but those appointed to do it, and every 
man makes way and then runs off when he sees these men come to bring the birds food, 
and they have a special place so that the birds may always come there for their 
food or nourishment."^ 

A stranger who dies without being identified is deprived of burial and his body 
is thrown into the forest (Beauvais, p. 144). 

1 Speaking generally of the coast, Adams writing in 1823, p. 186, says : "The birds of prey are 
eagles and vultures ; the latter are the scavengers of tropical countries and are so fearless of man, 
in consequence of the protection they receive from him for their useful qualities, that in some of 
the African towns they will scarcely move out of the path where he is walking." 

Burial. 4^ 

"The approach to Benin," writes Mr. C. Punch, ''was by an avenue, and in this 
were many corpses tied up in a mat. Sometimes we were told they were the corpses 
of those, who, accused of witchcraft had died while undergoing the ordeal of 
saucewood. Others told us that the bodies of the poor and those without relations 
to make the funeral services, were so thrown out in the bush.^ We were also 
informed that at the big ceremonies all the victims were beheaded and that only the 
headless trunks were thrown into the iyo.'' 

" When a King dies," according to Dapper, "a large hole is dug out in his 
palace, wide at the bottom and narrow at the top, and so deep that the diggers are 
even drowned in the water. Into this hole the king's corpse is thrown, when all the 
king's favourites and servants appear, offering to accompany him in order to serve 
him in the next life, and although none but those who have been most beloved by him 
during his life can obtain this favour, there is much quarrelling over the question. 
After those that are granted the favour have climbed down into the hole w^here the 
king's corpse is lying, a large stone is rolled up to the opening of the hole to cover it, 
while the people stand around it night and day. The next day some people are sent out 
to open the hole by taking away the stone, then they ask those that are in the hole 
what they are doing, and whether anybody has gone to serve the king. To which 
there is no answer but ' No ! ' On the third day the same question is again asked, and 
then sometimes the answer is given that such or such a one has first undertaken the 
journey, and such or such a one in the second place, which first one is praised and 
deemed happy by all of them. At last, after four or five days, all these people are 
dead. When there is no one left to give an answer this is reported to the new, 
presumptive king, who at once orders a large fire to be lit on the top of the hole, on 
which a great quantity of meat is roasted for distribution among the community ; 
this is to inaugurate his reign. After the hole has been filled up, great numbers of 
people are cut down,^ and the heads of the corpses covered w^ith pieces of cloth, that 
nobody is allowed to lift ; only certain birds, of which there are two sorts, one called 
Goore and the other Akallcs, dare touch them. There are some who say that only 
headless or beheaded people are thrown into the hole. A great part of the late king's 
attire, furniture and hoesjes or cowTies, is placed near the corpse." 

Landolphe's account is as follows: "When the King of Benin dies a hole is 
dug in one of the large courts of the palace, about four feet square, thirty deep and 
very broad at the bottom. The monarch's body is lowered into it together with his 
ministers — the latter alive. The opening is closed by a large wooden lid, victuals are 
brought to it every day, and the question asked, * Is the king dead ? ' The 
unfortunate ones reply ' He is very ill.' The bringing of food and the asking of 
questions is continued until silence certifies that there are no more living. During 
the first days the capital is in mourning. Men masked and disguised in a fantastic 
way armed with a damas [? Damascus blade] throng the streets and steal the heads 
of those w^hom they meet, collecting the blood in copper dishes to pour on to the 
tomb of the king. A little later on, the bodies of the king and his ministers are 
withdrawn from the hole, and those of the victims are handed over to their relations, 
who feel much honoured by the fact that the king's servants should have accompanied 

1 " One of the most keenly felt of Yoruba curses is 'Okubeo — May 3-ou die off or be buried in the 
bush' i.e., ' May you be so poor or insignificant tliat when you die no one will bury you.' " C.l'. 

2 There is a temporary anarchy and tumult at Dahomey, Wydah, &c., when a king dies and 
before his successor is announced and takes possession of the throne (Norris, p. 129). 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

him into the next world, They are buried at the bottom of their compounds. The 
king himself is buried in a spacious court under a vast portico supported by twelve 
large pillars each formed from a single tree trunk. These badly carved pilastres 
represent great men in their ceremonial dress when attending the king's council. 
On examining one of these tombs I noticed many elephants' tusks seven feet long 
and brilliantly white, but it hurt me much to see them covered with human blood. On 
the roof there is a snake thirty feet long and six feet in circumference made by 
artistically mortising these tusks into one another.^ Its mouth was open and its 
tongue consisted of a blade of copper. It seemed to be coming from the top and to 
be gliding the length of the roof in order to get into the tomb. The above details 
were given me by the fiadors as w^ell as by many inhabitants, for no king died while 
I was in the country" (I., pp. 55-56).^ 

Regarding the men who go about masked and disguised they remind Mr. C. 
Punch of the Okerison, who, during 14 days in November went about with short bars 
killing anyone they met. 

Fig. 50. — Brass bottle, engraved, Height i6in. (40 cm.). British Museum. 

1 This appears to be the only reference to an animal built up of ivory. The snake seen by the 
Punitive Expedition was of copper. At Windsor Castle there are, I believe, two Benin leopards 
built of ivory. 

2 " When King Orishima of Brass was buried, a hole was dug as big as a room, about 8 feet wide 
by 14 feet long by 12 feet deep ; at one end was placed a table on which were boiled beef, ship's 
biscuit, tumbo (palm wine), glasses, &c., and this was boarded round. The body of the king was kept in 
a small house close to his house, where any passer-by could see the body lying in state, until it became 
quite objectionable to them, when it was carried round the town in a wicker frame on men's shoulders 
and finally put into the grave or chamber. When the hole was sealed by laying logs across the top 
and then earth or clay over that, a small hole was left for tumbo or gin to be poured in at the yearly 
' father making.' Shortly after the death of a chief, king, or well-to-do man, his people fire off cannon 
at intervals during the day and night, sometimes for several weeks after the body has been consigned to 
its last resting place. The amount of gunpowder burnt on these occasions is regulated by the riches 
of the defunct and the liberality of his successor. Free men and the chiefs and petty chiefs are 
buried with the same formalities as the king. But the scale on which these formalities are carried 
out is gradually diminished according to the wealth of the party to be buried. The body is buried in 
the dwelling house of the late chief." For this note I am indebted to Count de Cardi. If I 
remember right, Hutchinson mentions the case of a king's burial at Calabar when the women had 
their legs broken before putting in the tomb, and that for a time the ground, which covered them, 
heaved with their struggles. 


Courtesy to strangers — Pride — Honesty — Drink — Immorality — Courtesy — Dignity — Vanity — 
Superstition — Good treatment engenders reciprocal treatment (46) — Adherence to ancient 
customs — Mutual civility — Fear of government — Pretence of being poor — Charity — Laziness — 
Feigned civility — Liberality to Europeans — Thievish and superstitious — Good heartedness and 
hospitality — Poisoning and robbing Burton's bad opinion (47) — Cannibalism, no record of — 
Roupell's olHcials deny its existence^Idle Chiefs — Want of care for the poor, 

D.R. found the " people very straightforward and doing no wrong to one an- 
other, nor do they cheat one another," and he adds elsewhere " the people are very 
reverential and respect strangers very much, for when any stranger meets or 
passes them on the path, they make way for him and step aside, and no one of them 
is so bold as to go by or overtake him, unless they be expressly bidden so to do, or the 
stranger prays them to go on, nay, they dare not do so, however much they have to 
carry or however heavily laden they may be, for if they did they would be punished for 
it. Neither are they wanting in pride or ambition and they desire always to be praised 
by their owm people." Dapper gives them practically the same character : " The 
inhabitants are all decent people, surpassing all the other negroes of the Coast in 
everything, living peacefully together under good laws and justice, and show great 
respect to the Dutch and other foreigners visiting their Coast for commerce, and also 
to each other. They are not much given to stealing, nor are they drunkards, but 
they are very libidinous."^ The last named characteristic is borne by them to the 
present day in spite of severe punishments and restrictions. " The Jekris complained 
that it was the common habit of Bini men to send their wives to the water side 
(riverside) markets with intent to decoy the Jekri traders into liasioiis, so that pains 
and penalties might be bestowed on them. In my time the Binis seemed to be 
courteous and hospitable to strangers. The chiefs were dignified and reserved in 
manner, and even when angry did not as a rule indulge in loud tones or violent 
gestures. They were very curious when we first visited them. They came in a 
continual stream from morning till midnight in order to see the white man. All 
ranks and classes came into the room in which we sat, saluted us gravely, sat down 
and stared, and then saluting us again got up and left. They did not beg for small 
presents as most natives do, and if given any trifles expressed their thanks. The lead- 
ing traits of their character were undoubtedly vanity and superstition, and it 
would be difficult to say which prevailed " (C. Punch). Nyendael goes into 
more detail and explains the cause of the people's general civility. " The 
inhabitants of Great Benin are generally good-natured, and very civil, from 
whom it is easy to obtain whatever we desire by soft means. If we make 
them liberal presents, they will endeavour to recompense us doubly ; and if 
we want anything, and ask it of them, they very seldom deny us, though 

^ At Warri, Dapper records that the " Natives are cleverer in many things than those of Benin." 

46 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvors. 

they may want it for themselves. But they are so far in the right, to expect 
that their courtesy should be repaid with civility, and not with arrogance or rudeness ; 
for to think of forcing anything from them is to dispute with the moon. They are 
very prompt in business, and will not suffer any of their ancient customs to be 
abolished ; in which, if we comply with them, they are very easy to deal with, and 
will not be wanting in anything on their part requisite to a good understanding. The 
natives here seem very civil to each other, and omit no opportunity of offering their 
mutual services ; but this is bare compliment, for they will not trust one another, but 
are jealously prudent, and very reserved, especially in the management of their trade, 
Avhich they despatch with the utmost secrecy, out of fear of being represented as 
great traders to their governors, who, upon such a discovery, would certainly accuse 
them of some crime or other, in order to possess themselves, though never so un- 
justly, of the effects of these rich merchants. And here, as well as everywhere else, 
it is easy to find a stick to beat a dog with ; wherefore those who are out of power, 
and have no share in the government, always pretend to be poorer than they really 
are, in order to escape the rapacious hands of their superiors." Mr. C. Punch found 
similar conditions prevailing during his visits : " The lower classes were also lazy, 
and produced little beyond their actual needs and to supply the demands 
of their overlords. The extortion of the chiefs prevented any progress ; no 
man dared accumulate wealth, own exceptional comforts or make any display 
of unusual riches."- To return to Nyendael : "This obliges them all to a 
cunning sort of reciprocal civility, in order to avoid accusers ; and their professions 
are very rarely sincere, but only feigned. The king, the great lords and every 
governor, who is but indifferently rich, support several poor people at their place of 
residence out of charity, employing those who are fit for any work, in order to help 
them to a maintenance ; and the rest they keep ' for God's sake,' and to obtain this 
character of being charitable ; so that there are no beggars. And this necessary care 
succeeds so well, that we do not see many remarkably poor amongst them. They 
are very liberal in all exchange of presents of all sorts of goods, and they give the 
Europeans large quantities of refreshing provisions, and more than they really want ; 
nay, some in this particular give beyond their ability, only in order to acquire a good 
reputation amongst strangers." 

Landolphe found the negroes very reserved, and says " they would rather have 
their tongues cut out than divulge anything which might have been deliberated upon 
in their assembly" (II., p. 65). 

Beauvais found the Bini "very thievish and very superstitious." He says the 
*' native has no scruple during the night to attempt to recover an article which he has 
sold in the day time" (p. 142), and continues, " The Bini is at bottom good hearted 
and hospitable, but he is also greedy and vindicative. He dares not, on account of 
his religion [sic] strike a white man, but he does not hesitate to poison^ him in order 
to rob him, or for the sake of vengeance " (p. 143). 

1 As we have seen above, Dapper states the people of Warri do not poison each other so readily 
as in Benin. At Warri when a tiger was killed, Landolphe remarks : " The negroes believe that the 
tiger's liver is a poison as subtle as violent, and the chiefs of villages take every precaution to prevent 
its being used. They collect all the men, of whom eight are elected by a majority of votes, and who 
take an oath not to touch the liver. The tiger is cut open, his heart and liver are placed in an 
earthen-ware jar, and a heap of stones are piled round it. The eight men get a canoe and take the 
jar, which they throw into the middle of the river. On their return they take a fresh oath that they 
have not touched anything which was inside the jar" (I., p. ir)5). At Abo the gall of the drummer 
fish is said to be a deadly poison (Cole, Life in the Niger, Lond., 1862, p. 186). 

Character. 47 

Nyendael mentions special precautions being taken to secure the king against 
poisoning. Arrows were poisoned according to D.R. 

In Burton's time the character for honesty had deteriorated still more, for we 
are told by him : " I determined the Beninese to be, with the sole exception of the 
Mpongwe or Gaboons, the most pilfering race that I had visited on this west coast 
of Africa" (p. 417). " Trade was nearly all carried on by women and they were 
most dishonest. The lower classes were not such arrant thieves as the Jekri and 
Ijos, but probably that was because the European was more an object of awe to 
them than to the former. European goods and chattels were under the king's pro- 
tection, and unless by his orders would not be stolen to any great extent, all the 
same, I remember once when in Ojomo's house that his household made free with 
many trifles belonging to me " (C. Punch). 

Beauvais says that the old chroniclers spoke of the natives of W'arri and Benin 
as cannibals (Flore p. xi.), but I am quite unable to trace any such statement. 
Indeed, Roupell's officials say, " We have never heard of our fathers eating human 
flesh." It may be accepted as a fact that cannibalism was not a Bini failing.^ 

The occupation of the people is cursorily referred to by Nyendael : " There are 
several very rich men who live here and attend continually at court, not troubling 
themselves with either trade, or agriculture, or anything else, but leaving all their 
affairs to their wives and slaves." The employment " of the ordinary citizens is to 
loiter about whole days, till they hear of any ships being come into the river, upon 
which they go thither to trade with what goods they have in store. . . The handi- 
crafts' men keep to their work without troubling themselves with the court or trade. 
Others employ themselves in agriculture, or some such thing, in order to get their 
living " .{ibid). 

In Mr. Punch's time the character of the people, in the above respect, appears to 
have been the same as in Xyendael's time : " The chiefs lived in Benin, seldom visit- 
ing the villages which belonged to them. They were lazy and lived on the work of 
their slaves and retainers. 

" While professing, and to some extent paying, great deference to age, absolute 
neglect could be shown to anyone old and without friends. I remember an old 
woman coming to Gwato without friends or means of subsistence. We found her 
lying in the village dying of simple starvation. Neither the Ahuraku nor any of the 
people would do anything for her, and when arrangements were made to gi\'e her 
some food and quarters, the women of the town, going daily for water, would not as 
much as fill a pot for her. For this reason both the Benin and Jekri people were 
anxious for large families, so that if poor they might have someone to support them 
in old age " (C. Punch). 

^ In the Esmeraldo there are, however, frequent references to the Jos [Ijos, Ejaus, Jomen] as 
eaters of men, and Gallwey (p. 127) writes that "even now, 1S92, they do not object to a tender 
morsel of human flesh when the opportunity ofters." The spirit of the Ijos broke out very strongly 
among the neighbouring people of Brass a few years ago ; included in the mob of cannibals was a 
young chief who had just returned from being educated at a missionary college in England 
(^Boisragon, p. 31). In Crow's time, at Bonny, a Kiva chief who had been taken prisoner was 
eaten (p. 84.) 


Dapper's version — ' Cult to the devil ' — No need to worship a benevolent spirit — Orisa — Fetishes — 
Devil charmers — Predictions — Nyendael's version — Gods and devils — Images — Anything extra- 
ordinary is a god — Their knowledge of God — Impossible to make image of god — No organised 
priesthood (50) — Worship the devil to ward off evil — The same image a god or devil — 
Ghostly warnings — Offerings essential — " The custom of our forefathers " — Variety of offerings — 
Flesh of offerings eaten (51) — Explanation given to Landolphe and Beauvais — Feast days (52) — 
Annual non-human sacrifices — Sabbath every fifth day — Animals slaughtered and flesh eaten 
by poor — Future life in the sea — The shadow bears witness in the next world -Sacrifices 
made to the sea (53) — Alagwe the juju canoe spoiler — The discovery of salt — The Luba juju — 
His prediction of arrival of ships — Not allowed to enter Great Benin — Fetizeros esteemed — 
Ahuraku priests — The ' Parson ' (54) — Foundation of Gwato — The Malaku cult — Wood devil 
spreads plague if offended (55) — His rule violated by Europeans — Native explanation — Annual 
expulsion of evil spirits — The Egugus — The drivers' curious dress — They maltreat all they meet — 

— X Their acrobatic performances — Idol or Fetish huts (57) — Description of one — Antics of the wor- 
shippers — Fetish huts in forest used for human sacrifices — Disguise of officials — No women 
allowed to enter these huts — Burton's descriptions of altars — Shango, god of thunder — Heteroge- 
neous collection of fetish articles (59) — Interior of the altars — Curious contents — Altar at Gwato — 
Dwarfed figures — Variety of fetish objects — Vows — Libations — The Kola nut — Chopping juju (61) 
Chalk a prophylactic (62) — Juju signs — King of Benin fetish — The king a high priest and a god — He 
required neither food nor sleep— King could turn into bird, &c, — King ruled by fetish priests — 
Human sacrifices (63) — Protest by Portuguese missionaries — Moffat and Smith's description — A 
Golgotha — Vultures — Pit for sacrificed bodies — Burton's account — Skulls lying about like 
pebbles — A field'of death — Turkey buzzards (64)— Victims on roads to city — Crucifixion — Sacrifice 
on arrival of white man — Victim made drunk — Voice of Oro — His victim — Slaves only — King's 
piety (65) — Sacrifices to his father — Oro — The Okerison — Barracoons — Catching victims — 
Gallwey's account — Path strewn with the dead — A rule of terror— Crucifixion — Dr. Roth's 
description (66) — Sacrificial trees — Ground strewn with human bones — Skewered mouths — 
No strict method of immolation (68) — Still living victims in pits — Curious wounds — How 
caused — Captives noosed — Captives stapled on to logs — Animals sacrificed— Commander 
Bacon's record (69) — W^oman horribly mutilated — Goat sacrificed to prevent advance of 
white men — Curious reason for sparing a captive — Dr. Allman's account — Sacrificial trees — 
Horrible sights — 176 victims — Brutal mutilations — Seventeen pits to hold the victims — Seven 
rescued from the pits — Originally no women sacrificed (70) — Roupell's officials explain the sacri- 
fices — Bad people or slaves sacrificed — Sacrifices to the king's dead father — Method of immola- 
tion — The Bead sacrifice (71) — The victim receives a message to take to Bead Juju — Curious 
prophecy — Sacrifice to Rain God — Woman victim — Sacrifice to the Sun — Sacrifice to God of 
Health, Ogiwo — Man and woman sacrificed — Message sent to Ogiwo — Dead people go to 
Ogiwo — White men go to another country (72) — Criminal freemen ordered to commit suicide — Any 
excuse for a human sacrifice — Ivories and cast woik sprinkled with blood — Ground in one com- 
pound caked with blood — Main object of sacrifice to send prayers to avert evil — The making of one's 
father — King's semi-annual parades (74) — Dapper refers to one annual parade — Tame leopards — 
Dwarfs — Human sacrifices — Their return to life — Royal show of wealth — Nyendael's description 
of the Bead or Coral Feast (76) — Legroing and Balon's description — Laughter of King at the 
sacrifices — Beauvais' explanation — Coral a royal gift — Yam Feast — More human sacrifices — 
Trick played on the people (77) — New yams not eaten until after feast — Special fortnightly fetes — 
Details of a human sacrifice — Bad music — Lascivious dancing — Blood sprinkled on tomb — 

Fetish and Kindred Observances. 


Landolphe's attempt to stop a sacrifice (79) — Beauvais' detailed descriptions — Music — Proces- 
sions — Fine dresses — A dancing minister — Monotonous chant — The victims — Second chant — 
Victims touched — Third chant — Immolation (82) — Fourth chant — Fanaticism of the women — 
Animals sacrificed — Women s offerings — Mr. C. Punch's arrival after sacrifices done (S3) — 
Curious ceremony — A voluntary human sacrifice (84) — His privileges — Woman accused of 
witchcraft — Torture — Millepede fetish — Water fetish— Jekri water spirit (85). 

" As to their religion," says Dapper, " it consists of a cult to the devil, to whom 
they sacrifice men and cattle ; for, although they know full well that there is a God 
who has created heaven and earth, and still rules, they think it of no use to adore 
him, as he is not bad, but good ; so they try rather to satisfy the devil with sacrifices, 
because he always treats them badly. ^ They call God Orisa,'^ and the white one 
(den ivitte Owiovisa) i.e., God's child. They have their Fetishes or idols, made of wood 
or green herbs,^ which they worship and consult ; everyone has also his Fetizero or 
devil-charmer, who asks the devil to speak with him ; the devil then answers by 

Fig. 51- 


Figs. 51 & 52. — Bronze Plaques in British Museum. The turned up 
fish legs of the central individual in fig. 51, and the fish from the belt of 
the individual in fig. 52, would seem to indicate fetish, and hence these 
individuals are probably intended to represent a king of Benin. The sup- 
port given to the arms of the fish-legged man in fig. 51 show that he 
was at least certainlv a big chief. 

means of Fetizi, and predicts what will happen to them in war or on other occasions, 
by a sound that is supposed to come from a pot with three holes." Nyendael's ver- 
They profess to worship both gods and devils in human and brutal images. 

sion IS 

some of which are elephants' tusks, claws, dead men's heads, and skeletons, etc. Also 

1 It was apparently in Dapper's time, as it is now, the fashion to speak of a non-Christian 
religion as that of the devil. The native explanation of why the devil is worshipped is, of course, 
the outcome of European teaching ; before the advent of the latter such an explanation would prob- 
ably never have occurred to a Bini. 

2 At Onitsha, bundles of sticks are fetish. 

^ At the present day, the Jekries of Warri, call God, Oreshe. 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

they take everything which seems extraordinary in nature for a god, and make offer- 
ings to it ; and everyone is liis own priest, in order to worship his gods in what 
manner pleases him best.^ It is really the more to be lamented that the negroes 
idolise such worthless nothings, as several amongst them have no very unjust idea 
of the deity ; for they ascribe to God the attributes of omni-presence, omniscience, 
and invisibility ; besides which, they believe that he governs all things by his 

Fig. 54. — For com- 
parison of the fish-like 
1 legs with those on Fig. 53 . 

It represents the Gnostic 
Supreme Deity known 
as Abraxas (O.M. Dalton 
Guide to the Early 

- , Christian and Byzantine 

Antiquities, British Mus- 

eum, London, 1903; 

P- 31) 

Fig. 53. — Bronze plaque of a fetish king and 
his attendants ; the king's legs ending in the form of 
the conventionalised catfish. Height i5jin. (39cm.) 
In the possession of Mr. R. K Granville. What the 
meaning of the fish legs, or, as they are sometimes 
represented, snake legs, is not known, but they can 
be compared with those of the mystic Abraxos 
(Fig- 54)- 

providence. By reason of God being invisible, they say it would be absurd to make 
any corporeal representations of him ; for it is impossible to make any image of what 
we never saw. They have therefore such multitudes of images of their idol-gods, 
which they take to be deities subordinate to the supreme God, without considering 

1 " I never could find any traces of an organised Juju priesthood in Benin, although there are 
natives who attach themselves to certain fetishes. In Yoruba, on the other hand, the Ifa priests are a 
distinct initiated body, but they pursue commonplace vocations as well. Whatever sacrificial killing 
was considered necessary, was performed by the king's officers. The saucewood, as I have shown 
in the case of an ordeal, was sent down by the king's boys (the Ukoba), and generally speaking, the 
priestly offices, like that of the executioner, seemed to be performed by men appointed from the 
king's staff. Again, certain nobles had certain rites and duties to carry out. The chiefs of the towns 
would perform some of the rites, and the heads of families others, and then some people inherited 
the right to perform some fetishes and business. Nor do I think that even the Oro brotherhood has 
any parallel to our ideas of a priesthood." (C. Punch), 

Fetish and Kindred Ohsevvances. 


what sort of trifles they are, beHeving there are mediators betwixt God and men, 
which they take to be their idols. They know enough of the dc\'il to call all that is 
evil by that name, and believe themselves obliged to worship and serve him, to 
prevent his doing them a mischief. The devil is not represented by any particular 
image, or distinguished from their idols otherwise than in their intention only ; for to 
the very same image, they at one time make offerings to God, and at another to the 
devil ; so that one image serves them in the two capacities of God and devil. They 
talk very much concerning the apparition of the ghosts of their deceased ancestors or 
relations ; which yet happens only to them in their sleep, when they come and warn 
them to make this or that offering ; which, as soon as the day approaches, they 
immediately do. If they are unable, they will, rather than fail in this duty, borrow 
of others ; for they imagine that the neglect thereof would draw on them some heavy 
affliction. If any person in raillery tells them they are only idle imaginations and 

Fig. 55- Fig. 56. 

Figs. 55 and 56, Crucifixion Trees from snap shot photographs by Dr. Allman. 

dreams, they will agree with them, but add, 'it is a custom of our forefathers which 
we are obliged to follow.' No other answer is to be obtained from them. Their 
daily offerings are not of great value, consisting only of a few boiled yams, mixed 
with oil, which they lay before the images of their gods. Sometimes they offer a 
cock, but then the idol only gets the blood, because they like the flesh very well 
themselves." With regard to the above distinction between one powerful good spirit 
and a multitude of evil spirits, Landolphe's and Beauvais' statements are not uninter- 
esting. According to the former their explanation for not adoring God was 
somewhat as follows. They say " Our sovereign is really great ; we see him seldom 
and hardly ever speak to him. If it happens that we are brought into his presence, 
we prostrate ourselves without daring to look at him, being obliged even to cover up 
our mouths with one hand. God is infinitely greater and also infinitely good, as he 
never does us any harm ; there is, therefore, no need to worship him and besides, he 
thinks much less about us than does our king. But the same does not hold good 
with the devil, for as he is wicked, causes us as much evil as he can, and as all 
troubles come from him, we pray to him and worship him, and we give him victuals 
to appease him" (II., pp. 70, 71). While according to Beauvais: "The native believes 
in two beings ; one a good one to whom he never prays because he has nothing but 
good to expect from him, and one an evildoer whom he invokes so as to avoid the 
evil which he may do him. The native cuts off his fellow creatures and sprinkles his 
fetishes with their blood in the hope of inducing his divinity to treat him well (p. 142)." 

52 Grkat Benin— //i Cusfoius, Art and Horrors. 

" They keep many feast days, celebrating them with dancing, jumping, playing, 
and the butchering of cattle and men, to the honour of their idols or Fetizi, and also 
with eating and drinking and merrymaking" (Dapper). 

"The great men make annual sacrifices, which are performed in great state, and 
prove very expensive ; not only because of their killing multitudes of cows, sheep, 
and all sorts of cattle, but because, besides that, they gi\^e a solemn [5/6] feast, making 
their friends very merry for several days successively and besides making them 
presents" (Nyendael). The same traveller says : "Their sabbath happens every ftfth^ 
day, w4iich is very solemnly observed by the great, with the slaughter of cows, sheep 
and goats, whilst the commonalty kill dogs, cats, and chickens, or whatever their 

Fig. 57. — "A human sacrifice, to make the rain cease, made in May, 1891. The 
victim was garotted — note the stick up the back ; tie tie {Calamus sp.) was tied 
round the neck and stick and twisted tight. The wretched place was always 
occupied by dead bodies." From a photograph by Mr. C. Punch. 

money will reach. And of whatever is killed, large portions are distributed^ to the 
necessitous, in order to enable them, as every person is obliged, to celebrate this 
festival" {ibid). Nyendael also records that "the seat of bliss or torment, in the future 
life, they imagine to be the sea. They call the shadow of a man passador or conductor, 
who they believe shall testify whether a person has lived well or badly ; if well, he 
is raised to great dignity, but if badly, he is to perish of hunger and poverty; so that 
they send the happy and the damned to the same place." This belief in a future 
state in the sea has doubtless arisen since the advent of Europeans, for as we shall 

^ " The fifth day was kept a Sunday and no work was done on the farms on that day, but oddly 
enough the fetish did not prevent other work being carried out. When a man built a new house he 
asked his friends and neighbours to help him ; he did not pay them but provided a feast and 
drummers. The Sunday was often chosen" — C.P. 

2 See note to Fig, 80. 

Fetish ami Kindred Observances. 53 

see later on dead people, not sacrificed, went to the God of Health (p. 72). However 
this may be, according to Dapper, "They also offer great yearly sacrifices to the sea, 
to dispose it favourably towards them, and their most solemn oaths are those made 
upon the sea and upon their king," though what they sacrificed, Dapper does not say, 
but Adams tells us in his time they were human sacrifices. 

Roupell's officials relate that "when Osogboa was king, there was a juju named 
Alagwe that troubled the country. Then the king called his men and took war 
against that juju and he dro\'e him and all his people from the village down to the 
waterside, and when he came to the waterside, Alagwe, the juju jumped in and he 
has never come back, so there he still is, and he it is who can sometimes spoil canoes. 
When the king had taken the people, he put his hand to the ground and found it 
was sweet like salt by tasting it, then he cried out ' What is this that Juju has.' So he 
and his boys began to dig and take it away to Aso. Before this, we had no salt, so 
now see how strong and plenty we are.' "^ 

Such troublesome spirits seem not to have been uncommon, for Dapper relates 
that "in the village of Lubo, situated in the front of the river of Arbon or Benin, 
lives a certain great Fetizero or devil cliarmer, the cliief of the village, from wliom 
the village has got its name, while all his ancestors have cultivated the same arts; 
for they could, as the natives said, conjure the sea in several manners, make the 
waters stir, and know beforeliand the coming of some ships from foreign countries ; 
in reward for which the King of Benin gave them the whole village with all the 
people and the slaves; so he still possesses this village of Lubo by inheritance, 
showing strange tricks, and always behaving like one possessed; therefore nobody 
dares shake hands with him. The Benin ambassadors when coming there are afraid 
of him, and he himself is not allowed to go to Great Benin or its environs, by virtue 
of a certain law, adopted a very long time ago by the Benin kings, who nevertheless 
hold many of those Fetizeros in great esteem and honour." This Lubo is probably 
Ologbo, and if so confirms Mr. Punch's remarks that the Europeans came 
first to Ologbo and not to Gwato (Egatun). "There would probably be a tradition 
of an Ahuraku priest at one of the waterside villages on the Ologbo creek. There 
was an Ahuraku priest at Igoro, a small town on the road between Gwatun and 
Benin, and there was another in Benin city. Neither the Ahuraku at Gwato nor the 
one at Igoro might set foot on the road to Benin beyond the bounds of his town. 
I was told that the Ahuraku at Igoro if very angry about anything would say 'Well, 
I will go to Benin then,' and make a great show of starting. Whereupon his friends 
and family restrained him. But the news, that he had come out of his town as far 
as the bounds and had only been restrained by his family, would be carried to Benin 
and perhaps the king would send to ask what had so vexed his soul as to make him 
contemplate such a desparate deed. The same would hold good with the Ahuraku 
at Gwato, but the position of the one in Benin itself I never understood" (C. Punch). 
" Gwatun was the head centre of the cult of Malaku, the spirit of big water, i.e., 
the sea, big rivers, not creeks. Hence it is easy to understand why it should be 
the town set aside for the entrance to Benin of the white man who came on the big 
water. I used to be told in a vague way the tale of the foundation of Guatun. A son 
of a king named Caladesan was its founder. Either his mother was false, or else he 
was accused of attempting one of his father's wives. Anyhow, he fled from Benm, 

1 This would probably be some Jekri village where the salt bush is ; there is no salt bush in the 
Ado country. See Trade. 


Great Benin— //s Customs, Art and Hovvovs. 

and after much wandering and some magic with a palm-tree and a turtle, took up 
his home at Guatun, where the turtle is sacred to this day, as it is also at Ilaro, to 
the west of Lagos Colony, and in many other places. Caladesan's town throve, and 
he defeated an army sent by the King of Benin. His independent sovereignty was 
allowed, but he was never to return to Benin. At Igora, the chief called Ahuraku, 
was also independant. The king's boys (Ukoba) were not supposed to enter into 
either of these towns to make trouble. In Cheetham's time, the Ahuraku, who 
was known as ' Parson,' was a strong man and insisted on his rights and the 
Ukoba were quiet. But the Ahuraku I knew was a feeble creature, and the king's 

Fig. 58. — A woman crucified as an offering 
to the God of Rain. From a photograph 
taken by a member of the Punitive Expedi- 
tion. [The Daily Graphic). 

Fig. 59. " The above represents a 
wooden human figure placed close 
to the entrance of one of the prin- 
cipal compounds. What appear 
to be sticks, are human entrails, 
and the mass on the ground is 
composed of portions of human 
remains ; on the pedestal are re- 
mains of sacrificed fowls, dogs 
and goats, scattered about." From 
a snapshot photograph by Dr. 

Fig. 60. Scavenger Birds attacking decapitated 
body with arms tied at the back. Bronze Work, 
British Museum. 

boys did as they pleased till I arrived. I am afraid the Ukoba did not like me much, 
especially two named Aguramasse and Agbe. 

" The story of the origin of Guatun was also connected with Asije or Esige, the 
king specially connected with the Europeans, as well as with the founding of the iron 
and brass industries in Benin. There was a compound dedicated to him in Benin, in 
which was a deep well of pure water and a very old breech loading gun. He arrived 
at Guatun and went from there to Benin to 'Chop King.' He did not go by the 

Fetish and Kindred Observances. 55 

straight road, but round through a place called Uruegi. There are many villages on 
the road, each of which seemed to have some old legend. I remember a tree bent 
across the path which was an object of veneration. Asije is said to have hung his 
bag containing his treasures, including the implements for iron working, on the tree, 
and the weight bent the tree down. When Asije passed on, the tree remained bent. 
Asije seems to have left a reputation for benevolence and gentleness quite foreign to 
the Benin type. There was a big flood over all Benin in his day, and he was said 
to have driven back the Malaku to Guatun and forbidden him again to invade the 
land. He fixed iron pins in the ground on the bluff at Guatun, beyond which 
the Malaku must not encroach. The pins were pointed out to me there when I went 
up first. Malaku was an impersonation of Orishi, and probably of late origin and 
peculiar to the Bini, as it is not known among the Egbas and Awyaws of the interior " 
(C. Punch). When Dapper speaks of the Bini making sacrifices to the sea he was 
evidently alluding to the Malaku cult. The juju Alagwe was probably no other 
than Malaku. 

Nyendael, in speaking of the destruction of twins refers to a certain wood (in 
which the devil is supposed to lurk) " which is by them esteemed so sacred that they 
never permit a foreign negro or any of his wives to enter it.^ If any person accident- 
ally happen on a path which leads to this wood, he is obliged to go on to the end of 
it, and must not return until he has been to the end ; and they are firmly persuaded 
that if this law be violated, or that of offering the children twins and mother, or at 
least a female slave in her place, the land will be attacked by some severe plague. 
Notwithstanding all which, I have frequently gone a-shooting in this w^ood ; and to 
ridicule their credulity, designedly turned before I had gone half-way to the end of 
the path ; by which means I not a little staggered the faith of some, who saw that 
my boldness was not attended with any evil consequences. But the roguish priests 
were immediately ready to hand with an exception, which was, that I, being a white 
man, their god, or rather devil, did not trouble his head about me, but if a negro 
should presume to do so, the danger would soon appear." 

The annual driving out of evil spirits, a ceremony found also more to the east as 
described by Hutchinson in Calabar, is thus related by Fawckner : " I witnessed a 
strange ceremony peculiar to these people, called the time of the grand devils. Eight 
men were dressed in a most curious manner, having a dress made of bamboo about 
their bodies, and a cap on the head, of various colours and ornamented with red 
feathers taken from the parrot's tail ; round the legs were twisted strings of shells, 
which made a clattering noise as they walked, and the face and hands of each indi- 
vidual were covered with a net. These strange beings go about the town by day and 
by night for the term of one month, uttering the most discordant and frightful 
noises ; no one durst venture out at night for fear of being killed or seriously mal- 
treated by these fellows, who are then especially engaged in driving the evil spirits 
from the town. They go round to all the chiefs' houses, and in addition to the noise 
they make, perform some extraordinary feats in tumbling and gymnastics, for which 
they receive a few cowries." (p. 102). 

" These people were egugns, the same as in Yoruba. They had roughly carved 
headpieces representing animals, and the rest of the head, body, hands and legs were 
covered in a loose fitting garment. In old days if in dancing one of the egugus 

1 These are the Oro Groves common to all towns in Yoruba land. 


Great Benin — 7/5 Customs^ Art and Horrors. 

Fig. 62. 


Fig. 63. 

Fig- <''5- 

Fig. 61. — Brass Club (Length 552 mm.) From one of the pits there was taken amongst others, a 
native carrier, a Kru boy, who had been captured at the massacre of Vice-Consul Phillips' party. 
When Dr. F. N. Roth, examined him, he found three peculiarly shaped holes in the boy's head — 
one through each cheek, and one deep into the back of the head. The wounds appeared to 
have been made by a thin, blunt instrument, somewhat like an engineer's chisel, but never 
having seen an instrument which would exactly fit such mutilations, the surgeon was much 
puzzled as to what could have been this murderous weapon. The boy could offer no explana- 
tion, except that he and many others had been killed (!1 so that the British should not 
enter the city — that he had been hit with a piece of iron, and then thrown for dead into the pit, 
where he had been five days. He was more or less silly on account of his sufferings, and hence 
no further explanation could be got from him (5^^ Fig. 66). Shortly afterwards, in examining one 
of the altars in the king's compound, a British officer found the peculiar instrument here depicted, 
thickly encrusted with blood, and on showing it to my brother, he considered that this must have 
been the club with which this lad had been struck ; it showed signs of very great wear. It was 
stated that the two cup-like arrangements were to collect the victim's blood to sprinkle over the 
bronze heads, carved tusks, etc. I'igs. 62, 63 and 64, are details of I'^ig. 61. 

Fig. 65. — Bronze Horn of quite recent manufacture. Compare this with the sacrificial club described 
by Mr. Punch (p. 7.}). Length 1.4^ in. yy cm.) British Museum. 

Fetish and Kindred Observances. 57 

showed the bare skin of his hands, feet, body or face he was killed. They were 
after a fashion ventriloquists. 

"In November, which was the time of the feast of new yams, and also the 
okerison time, for fourteen days no man walked on the road going to Gwato. He might 
walk to Gwato from Benin, but he must not walk the other way. If he walk to- 
wards Benin he would meet with an old man walking towards Gwato with a bag 
over his shoulder. If he saluted the old man he received a polite reply, but, after 
passing, if he turned, he would see no one on the road, and then he would know he 
was doomed, and would in fact sicken and die within a few hours. I was assured by 
many natives that this was a fact which they well knew from personal experience of 
friends lost. Along the roads are many little fetish altars, and passers by deposit 
offerings of food, cowries, palm oil, fowl feathers, and above all egg-shaped objects 
made of white substance, probably kaolin of pipe clay. Once a year all the forest 
altars are swept and garnished. The old man with the bag is supposed to be a 
spirit sent by Malaku, who collects in his bag all the offerings on the Gwato road, 
and on arrival at Gwato disappears with his bag into the big water." (C. Punch). 

" Their false gods, or the trash which represents them, are spread all over their 
houses, and no place is free from them ; besides which, there are several small huts 
erected without the house, which are likewise filled with them, and whither they 
sometimes go to sacrifice " (Nyendael). An idol house, or fetish hut, as such are now 
called, is described by Fawckner, the building being of the usual habitation type. 
He says : " The walls of this building are of clay and are covered in with rafters, 
across which branches of bamboo are laid and tied down. There are no windows, 
but an aperture in the middle of the roof serves to let in the light, under which stands 
a cistern or tank, which conveys the rain away through holes into the ground. 
Round it is a walk about 3 feet wide, where the people dance to the sound of their 
drums ; and he who can make the most grotesque figure and play the most laughable 
pranks, is held in highest esteem by the spectators. In the centre is a bench formed 
of brown clay, which, by frequent rubbing with a piece of cocoanut shell and wet 
cloths, has received a polish, and when dry looks like marble. Here is placed the 
fetish ; there is a young tree beside it stripped of all its foliage, and at the foot an 
earthen pot containing skeletons of animals, crooked sticks, and such unseemly 
trifles, which the people ignorantly and superstitiously venerate and worship" (p. 32). 

According to Landolphe "there are no temples at Owhere such as exist in Benin. 
These buildings are erected in the forests and are extremely clean inside and outside. 
Round about for a long distance are laid the mats on which the executioners march 
in their processions. When sacrificing, for it is human beings they slay, these men 
appear disguised in a single piece of native grey cloth, which covers them from the 
ground to two or three feet above their head, in the form of a sugar loaf, and they 
also take care to rub their feet with chalk so that they may not be recognised. Two 
pieces of glass set in holes enable them to see. Women never enter these temples " 
(H., p. 70).^ 

Burton describes a fetish altar in Benin as follows : " There is not a single room 
in the house, even the courts and lowest offices, in which altars and implements of 

1 "These dresses are common all over the country. The dress is in reality a long bag, much 
longer than the person wearing it, so that by pulling it about and refolding it while being worn, it 
has rather a weird appearance. The spare portion with the open end is folded and held in the hands 
inside the other parts ; the sugar-loaf over the head is made by simply holding up a hand." C,P. 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

worship do not appear. The rehgion I at once recognised to be the intricate and 
mysterious mythology of Yoruba.^ It has, however, some modifications ; for 

Fig. 67. — The Kru boy with the 
curious holes in his head saved from 
one of the pits. From a snap-shot 
photograph by Dr. Allman. 

Fig 68, — Plaque of a chief or 
Fig. 66.-Bronze Stand. "°^le holding the Ebere (figs. 69 

The upper figure appears to if 7°^ m his right hand. British 

have in his hand an instru- Museum, 

ment similar to that shown 
in fig, 65. The lower figure 
holds in his hands the juju 
rattle, fig. 76. 

instance, Shango, tlie god of thunder and Hghtning, is, Hke Shiva in olden India, here 
worshipped. The domestic altar is rigged up in various ways, too various in fact for 

^"This system can hardly be entered upon here; it would require a larger Lempriere [1765-1824, 
author of Bibliolheca Classica] . The reader will find a fair sketch of it in the Rev. Mr. Bowen's 
Central Africa," F.B. 

Fetish and Kindred Observances. 5^ 

short description. Some are external, provided with all the heterogeneous mixture of 
fetish idols ; waterpots, pipkins of spirits, cowries, chalk-sticks,' ivories, some elabor- 
ately and beautifully carved as the Chinese, men's heads coarsely imitated in wood 
and metal, cocoa-nuts, and huge red clay pipes of Benin make, with stems six feet 
long. Internally, these sacella are usually alcoves, not intended for man's use. Their 
contents are similar to the former, but more elaborate ; there are wooden birds, life- 
sized, but curiously and wonderfully made, with tails probably intended to resemble 
elephant tusks, and large black sticks surmounted by a carved hand and out-pointing 
index ; whilst a little below, a wooden clapper converts the open-worked hollow into 
a rude and noiseless bell." (pp. 278-9). Some sixty years later the members of the 
Punitive Expedition found the altars covered with similar offertories. 

From Gwato, Burton gives a description of a different sort of altar in a fetish hut 
attached to his host's habitation. " Once a fine building, the roof is now fallen in. 
Its most remarkable feature is a high altar, conspicuous for the statues of the reign- 
ing king and queen. His majesty of Benin is a peculiar figure, somewhat like 
Ganesa, all head, bust and paunch ; his legs are doubled up as if he were a 
Tecumseh, and his arms are supported ' country fash,' by two similar figures 
intended, as in the Laocoon, for boys. His consort is in like position ; she and her 
handmaidens have immense bosoms, if volume be beauty. The other objects are 
plates of thin iron perforated, and shaped like a large fish -sheer, with a shank and a 
terminating ring — mysterious article, used for making play at festivals. Besides 
these were many walking canes, wooden pots like old leather jacks [waxed leather 
pitchers] , but adorned with metal, pipes apparently copied from the chibouque, three 
weather-worn ivories, sundry bells, square and round, wooden and metal, and similar 
offvandes. There were newly made gifts, white chalk and freshly gathered kola 
nuts " (p. 281). We shall not be far wrong in saying that Burton has here described 
the altar of the Malaku House illustrated in Fig. 83. 

In D.R.'s time they had " also a special sort of fruit which tastes like the garlic, 
its colour is purple red, but otherwise of the same shape as found on the Gold Coast. 
When they make a vow and wish to take an oath, they condemn themselves not to 
eat a garlic which falls or breaks into so many pieces, also many undertake not to eat 
it at all, each one according as he has a mind." This is no doubt intended to 
refer to the kola nut. 

Similarly to other West Africans, the Bini " when drinking, always pour a few 
drops upon the ground, muttering the while ' Mobia, Malaku, Mobia — I beg, O 
Malaku — Fetish — guardian of lands and waters — I beg of thee to defend me against 
all evil, to defeat and destroy all my foes.' This said, a broken bittock of kola 
{Sterculia acuminata) is thrown upon the ground, and is watered with a few drops of 
palm wine " (Burton p. 281).^ " Mobia is however Jekri for ' I beg you.' Some of 
the drink was carefully poured on the great toe. That on the ground was to the 
the shades of ones ancestors, and that on the toe or head to ones own good luck or 
destiny. In Benin the entertainer used to make a long prayer involving all kinds of 
good fortune, and the guest replied by snapping the first and second fingers of the 

1 Burton probably means kaolin, as chalk is not found anywhere near Benin, but could of 
course have been imported by the trader. 

2 " This purely self-defensive rite, common throughout Western Africa, is often confounded with 
offerings of wine and food made to the ghosts of fathers— Pitri, the Hindus call them. The latter, 
however, are always placed in the bush." — F.B. 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Avt and Hovrovs. 

• O O o O 

O O O O o o 

o o o c « o ^ 

O o o O o 
'3 C O O O ClO 

O C O C O. 0\9l 

. '» oo oo.OWll 

\ ,^ O O o O 6 
(,',0 O C o o © 


* o© oo 

f.fl O O O 


o o o 



O o o o o 

o o c o O C(\«^ 
,« o e o fjjj^ 
o 6 e d'o's^ 

o o o""/) 


Eberes. " These articles were 
nearly always thought by Europeans 
to be a kind of cutlass. They were 
not weapons, but simply ornaments 
held in the hand, and turned about 
during the ceremonial dances. I had 
one made in silver plate for the king, 
by Mappin and Webb, from an old 
one lent me as pattern" (C. Punch). 
Fig. 6g is regularly perforated, but in 
fig. 70 the holes are placed at irregular 
intervals and are not so distinctly 
visible. The blade of fig. 69 appears 
to be iron, nickel plated and it is 
furnished with an iron ring 12 in, : 
(30J cm.) diameter; the blade in fig. 
70 is brass. The length of the blade 
fig. 69 is 31 inches (79 cm.), the length 
of the instrument fig. 69 is 36 inches 
(91 cm.) and that of fig. 70, 38^ in. : 
(97^ cm.) In Warri it was stated 
that these instruments were used 
by the women at certain dances. 
Dr. F. N. Roth, who was present at 
the taking of Chief Nana's town in 
1894, tells me a large quantity of these 
articles were then found ; they were 
mostly silver plated and bore the 
name of a well known Birmingham 
silver plating firm. 

Fig. 70. 

Fetish and Kindvcd Observances. 


right hand on the pahn of the left, saying repeatedly, isse — amen. (?) " C. Punch. 
"• This nut is also used for taking the oath of friendship, ' chopping juju ' as it 
is now called. There are many ways of doing it, but it mainly consists in 
eating portions of the same fruit or \^egetable, and repeating a declaration 
that he, the native, would speak ' true mouth ' with the white man, be white 
man's brother, and always be honest with him, &c. This particular ceremony 
was performed with a kola nut placed on a brass tray with water poured on it, the 

Fig. 70a. Fig- 71- 

Figs. 70a & 71. — Brass Figure. Front and side view of a Benin official holding an 

Ebere in the right hand and club as shown in fig, 61 in his left hand 
595 mm. Field Columbia Museum, Chicago. 


native then touched himself with the water and nut and ate part of it, the other part 
being eaten by the white man " (Bacon, p. 100). 

Evil spirits are all kept off by bedaubing oneself with chalk, as Burton records 
(p. 282). " Sawaye the ' father-boy,' brought, besides slave boys, a little daughter 
and two wives ; these ladies began by decorating their foreheads and bosoms with 

62 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

chalk, picked from the roadside fetish-house, and made into a paste with water in the 
palm. It is a prophylactic against the works of the enemy, and I observed that they 
renewed it during the return march." For the same end, as seen by Burton " almost 
every turn of the road showed some sign, a suspended calico cloth, a pot of water, or 
a heap of chalk sticks placed under what the Scotch call a ' fause-house,' or what the 
Australians call a breakwind, i.e., a pent roof, looking like the falling flap of a large 

" The King of Benin is fetiche, and the principal object of adoration in his 
dominions. He occupies a higher post here than the Pope does in Catholic Europe ; 
for he is not only God's viceregent upon earth, but a god himself, whose subjects 
both obey and adore him as such, although I believe their adoration to arise rather 
from fear than love ; as cases of heresy, if pro\^ed, are followed by prompt decapita- 
tion." Adams who writes (p. 112) as above adds that the king's deluded subjects 
believed the king required neither food nor sleep^ (p. 113). In connection with this 
belief we may quote from Beauvais (p. 143) : " The king is looked upon by his 
subjects as a demigod, who can live without food or drink, subject to death but 
destined to reappear on earth at the end of a definite period." Referring to the 
above statement of Adams, Burton says " The Obba (king) of Benin is fetish, and 
the object of adoration to his subjects ; hence his power. European writers assert 
that he occupies here a higher post than the Roman Pontiff in Catholic Europe, and 
is considered not only as the vicegerent of deity, but as a deity himself, claiming the 
obedience and adoration of his subjects. This is partly true, but they forget that the 
personal character of the deity in question mainly decides his position as a man." In 
any case the people believed in the supernaturalness of the king, though not in his 
divinity, in our acceptance of the term, and this is well examplified by the fact that no 
native either of Benin or neighbouring districts believed the king could be captured 
by the British, for they said he would turn into a bird and fly away (Granville and 
Roth. The Jekries, Jour. Anthrop. Inst., xxviii., p. 3.)^ Gallwey's statement sums 
up the situation best when he says, " Benin city is a very powerful theocracy of fetish 
priests. The king is all powerful though he would appear to be somewhat in the 
hands of his big men and very much tied down by fetish customs." This position 
came out very clearly at the king's trial. 

1 On the way to Warri, Burton remarks (p. 146), " After ten minutes pulhng we struck inland, 
where an earthen pot and a white cloth gave signs of Juju — these things might be mistaken by a 
novice for road-posts." 

2 It is criminal to suppose that the King of Dahomey ever eats or wants the refreshment of 
sleep (Norris, p. 105). 

■' I do not know how far such or similar transformations may be held as a belief by the Bini, but 
in connection with subject, the following note given me by a former resident of Onitsha is not unin- 
teresting : " The strange and almost universal superstition prevails that certain people can at will 
turn themselves into one of the lower animals, some into a crocodile, a buffalo, or a leopard, and in 
this form they are supposed to wreak vengeance upon their enemies. An amusing illustration of 
this, an incident which occurred while I was at Onitsha, cornes to my mind. One of the officers of 
the Royal Niger Company who was at that time at Onitsha, with great difficulty managed one night 
to shoot a buffalo. That same night an old lady in the town who had long been ill, died. She had 
the reputation of being able to turn into a buffalo, the theory being that while the spirit is absent in 
the beast, the person lies in an unconscious state. On this occasion the old lady had been uncon- 
scious for many hours before her death. There was hardly a person in Onitsha who did not believe 
that the Niger Company's Officer had murdered the old lady. So strong was the feeling, that the 
Niger Company had to pay a considerable sum to the relations of the aforesaid old lady as 

Fetish and Kindred Observances. 63 

The first mention of human sacrifices appears to be by D.R., followed by Merolla 
da Sorrento (Churchill II., p. 676), who describing what took place in or about the 
year 1682, when " Father Francis da Romano, Superior in the neighbouring Kingdom 
of Ouerri [Warri] , and Father Filip da Figuar endeavoured to disturb a certain 
abominable sacrifice accustomed to be performed every year to the devil, for the 
benefit, as they [the Bini] alleged, of their dead ancestors. This sacrifice consisted 
of above 300 men, but at present there were only five to die, yet those all of the better 
sort. These missioners, under the conduct of a certain negro friend, came to the 
third inclosure, capable of holding many hundreds of people. Here perceiving a 
great multitude gathered together, dancing and singing to divers instruments of their 
music, they clapped themselves down in a private place, the better to observe what 
they were going to do. This place happened to be that where they kept the knives 
designed to perform so inhuman an action. Not being able to conceal themselves 
long, they were quickly discovered by these wicked wretches, who coming towards 
them, leaping with great indignation, they soon drove the poor fathers out of the 
place they had so taken possession of." These men on being brought before the 
king reproached him with his evildoings, but in the end narrowly escaped with 
their lives. ^ 

D.R. and Dapper speak of human sacrifices, but Nyendael refers to sacrifices 
only. We have seen that Dapper refers to sacrifices to the sea. Capt. John Adams 
writing previous to 1823 says : " Human sacrifices are not so frequent here as in 
some parts of Africa ; yet besides those immolated on the death of great men, three 
or four are annually sacrificed at the mouth of the river, as votive offerings to the sea, 
to direct vessels to bend their course to this horrid climate.^ " 

When Moffat and Smith visited the city in 1840, we are told that " /Vt an open 
space near the market place, they were shocked by the sight of what may be termed 
a Golgotha, a place where human skulls were heaped up and bleaching in the sun. 
Still more were they disgusted by seeing in the outskirts of the town, not far from 
the king's place of residence, the bodies of men who had been but recently beheaded, 
with turkey buzzards feeding on them, and on the roof of a hut close by, two corpses 
in a sitting posture. The stench from an open pit near this revolting spot was 
almost insufferable, proceeding, as they beUeved, from human bodies in a state of 
putrefaction " (p. 191).^ 

About twenty years later, these horrors were fully confirmed by Burton. One 
day he writes, " As we advanced, the avenue shrank to a narrow lane, and in its deep 
shade we saw green and mildewed skulls lying about like pebbles. We thence 
emerged upon a broad open space, which we afterwards called the Field of Death. 
It was, indeed, a Golgotha, an Aceldama. Amongst the foul turkey buzzards 

1 According to Burton amongst the Ijos the custom is, " on occasions of ending war, to bury the 
victims up to the neck in earth, and after Canidian fashion, to let them starve when the modicum of 
food and water placed within reach is exhausted " (p, 150). 

2 Norris in Dahomey relates that " at the guard's house to the king's house at Abomey human 
skulls were fixed on stakes on the roofs ; on each side of the door there was a pile of fifty human 
skulls, and on a stage opposite the door there were about two dozen human heads (p. 93) ; more 
freshly cut-off human heads were to be seen on the way through the courts to the king (p. 94) , 
there was a terrible stench arising from the decomposing bodies of 32 horses and 36 men destroyed 
at a festival ; (p. 100) gibbets with murdered men hanging by their ankles, birds of prey tearing 
out their entrails (p. loi), a man tied neck and heels and thrown down from a stage (p. 125) were 
also seen." 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

basking in the sun, and the cattle grazing upon the growth of a soil watered with 
blood, many a ghastly white object met the sight, loathsome remains of neglected 
humanity, the victims of customs and similar solemnities. Our first idea was that 
we were led into the city by this road that an impression might be produced upon us. 
Afterwards, it became apparent that all the highways conducting to the palace are 
similarly furnished" (pp. 287-8), and on another occasion he writes, " In the herbage, 
on the right of the path appeared the figure of a man bare to the waist, with arms 
extended, and wrists fastened to a framework of peeled sticks planted behind him. 
For a moment we thought the wretch might be alive, hut a few steps con\'inced us of 
our mistake. He had been crucified after the African fashion, seated on a rough 
wooden stool, with a white calico cloth veiling the lower limbs, and between the 
ankles was an uncouth image of yellow clay. A rope of 'tie-tie,' fast bound round 

Fig. 72. Juju Altar in Benin City, This was in a private house near the'king's, 
in which a noble lived. It was part of his office to kill a slave every year for the 
king and put the skull on the altar. There was evidently some importance attached 
to this altar, as Aguramassi and Agbe insisted on Mr. Punch seeing it. From a 
photograph taken by Mr. R, K. Granville. 

the neck to a stake behind, had been the immediate cause of death ; the features still 
expressed strangulation, and the deed had been so recent that though the flies were 
there, the turkey buzzards had not yet found the eyes. The blackness of the skin 
and the general appearance proved that the sufferer was a slave. No emotion what- 
ever, except holding the nose, was shown by the crowds of men and women that 
passed by, nor was there any sign of astonishment when I returned to sketch the 
horrid scene. Afterthoughts convinced the party that the poor wretch had been 
sacrificed on hearing of the white man's arrival at Gwato. It is some comfort to 
think that the murder was committed with as much humanity as possible ; a slave 
bound for the other world is always plied with a bottle of rum before the fatal cord is 
made fast " (p. 287).' Later he says, " We were several times startled by the ' Voice 
of Oro ' buzzing about the town, and in the morning it became manifest that the 
' spirit ' had been perambulating the place to some purpose " (p. 409). Then he visits 

1 The descriptions of human sacrifices given by Landolphe and Beauvais do not leave the im- 
pression that the victims were intoxicated before being killed. 

Fetish and Kindred Observances. 65 

" Close to the king's palace, tlie spot where another death had taken place ; we 
walked there and found a corpse lying stark naked upon its back. A few people 
were standing by looking with the utmost insouciance at a horrid spectacle. The 
miserable's legs had been broken at mid-shin with awful violence, a deep gash was 
under the ramus of the left jaw, and in the hot clear morning air, the features had 
already become swollen and shapeless. This was a gratuitous barbarity. The 
African, less cruel because less intelligent than the European, the Asiatic and the 
American, rarely sacrifices men without stupifying them with drink or drugs. Oro, 
however, had manifestly slaughtered the poor de\'il in cold blood. Like the other 
sacrifice, this was a slave with a black skin and negro features, as great a contrast 
to the upper orders as the wTetched peasant of Western Ireland to the English 
patrician. The freemen are careful not to expose themselves ; moreover, the king 
would not put them to death, except for some flagrant violation of the law " (p. 410). 
On another occasion, " Sawaye kicked up a something which suspiciously resembled 
a man's eye. A deep splotch of blood a little further on explained matters. And 
more victims were hourly expected. The voice of Oro was explained to us as an 
effect of the king's piety ; during the customs or mourning for his father he forbade, 
under pain of death, anyone to leave the house after eight p.m." {ihidy p. 411). 

Of the Oro, Mr. C. Punch writes me : " I should imagine the Binis would have 
the Oro fetish, and at Eguatun many times they had a fetish when any woman 
caught outside was killed. I never, however, heard the Oro sound, i.e., the noise 
made in Yorubaland by twisting round a thin tongue of wood attached to a whip lash 
and handle, i.e., the Bull Roarer. The Oro men used to have a peculiar song instead. 
The fetish ceremonies were of daily occurrence, and night after night I have heard 
the drums beating, the king's long ivory horns blowing, and I knew some devilment 
was going on close at hand. But it was not always Oro that was heard, for there 
was the great ceremony of Okerison, when night prowling and murder were rampant. 
This was held in November. It lasted fourteen days. I believe there were 14 men 
called Okerison. They were armed with short iron bars and at night perambulated 
the place, and if they could, killed anyone they met. Sometimes the attacked party 
was the stronger and killed the Okerison. When the Okerison had killed fourteen 
men and proved his deeds to the king's satisfaction, he was given a title and an 
official position among the nobles. I was told the Okerison were members of the 
royal family, and this road was open to them to obtain official position. The different 
titles entailed the obligation to perform certain duties and rites in the court and 
country. The Ojomo was commander in chief, but I fancy the Olubusheri was the 
head fighting-man." 

The capturing of victims by night casts a lurid light on the terror which must 
have continuously hovered over the heads of the Bini, for at one time even their king 
took part in these massacres at night. Beauvais, while stating that the king " only 
shows himself twice a year in public outside his palace," adds : " This does not 
prevent him from frequently roaming the streets at night ; but if by chance he meet 
with any blacks they turn back or prostrate themselves, turning away their heads ; the 
least infraction or the least look would be punished at once with death " (p. 143). 

" There was a certain place in Benin which they wished me see, but I refused ; 
it was where the prospective victims were kept in stock. Criminals, prisoners from 
other tribes, and more especially those accused of malignant witchcraft, were sent to 
Benin and kept in this place, which from its description seemed like a barracoon 

66 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

where slaves were kept. In this were kept the victims to be used as required for 
sacrifices " (C. Punch). " If, on the day of sacrifice, there are not enough criminals in 
prison or in irons, the king sends out some of his servants to catch in the streets any- 
body that is going about without a light, and to take him to prison. If the captive 
happens to be poor, he is immediately taken to prison without chance of reprieve and 
has only to expect a speedy death ; but a rich one may buy himself free by paying a 
fine. Even a slave to the greatest fiadors is not excepted from this treatment, but 
his master is allowed to exchange him for another. In the same manner any 
Fetiziero who wants to sacrifice someone to the devil, gets possession of a man by 
order of the king, and may do with him what he likes" (Dapper). 

Of the Golgotha, Gallwey remarks: " Just before reaching the city we had to pass 
through rather an unpleasant half-mile of fairly open country. We presumed it was 
the place where all criminals' bodies were deposited. The path was strewn on both 
sides with dead bodies in every stage of decomposition ; skulls grinned at you from 
every direction — a gruesome experience in its way. Human sacrifices are of frequent 
occurrence, and the rule is one of terror. The usual form of sacrifice is crucifixion. 
We saw several crucified victims during our stay in Benin city, on the plain outside 
the king's residence." 

Mr. C. Punch had to make a closer acquaintance with one of these bone reposit- 
ories than was pleasant : " Outside the compounds running through the city, was a 
broad common, or avenue. When I was there this was littered with bones and skulls, 
as I well remember, on the occasion when I went with Consul Annesley. We did not 
like our treatment, and to show we were annoyed refused to enter a house. We put 
our beds down in this open compound and made a camp. We had to remove bones 
and skulls for the purpose. When we first arrived at Guato we found on the side of 
the path the remains of a man, tied up between trees and disembowelled. Excepting 
the isolated cases of victims tied up in trees near the king's house, which it was im- 
possible to ignore, I absolutely refused to be a witness to any executions, and so I 
can only speak by hearsay. It was expressly stipulated by me, wath the king, that 
no sacrifices or anything contrary to humanity should take place at Guatun, which 
was to be kept for the Europeans. The King kept strictly to his promise while I was 
there, though shortly after I left two boys were sent to Guatun, and after being tied 
up between trees beside the path, were cut open and left exposed. In Benin itself 
the usual ceremonies went on, but I was told with fewer victims than in Adola's time. 
The King himself told me he was sick of it all, but that he could not discontinue 
the customs of his ancestors. Two trees near the king's house, growing close 
together, were used for sacrifices, either for rain or fine weather, and whenever I 
visited Benin this post was always occupied. Sticks were fastened crosswise to 
make a ladder. I am told the victim (which might be male or female) never resisted 
or objected, mounted the ladder himself, and was then spatchcocked out, tied by his 
wrists and legs. Sometimes the victim was left to die from hunger and exposure, 
and at others a piece of stick was tied uprightly behind his back, a piece of ' tie-tie ' 
put round the throat, and he was killed by garotting, the body remaining exposed." 

But the full extent of the horrors entailed by the human sacrifices was probably 
never fully understood until the Punitive Expedition entered the city. Dr. Felix Norman 
Roth in his letters home speaks of what he saw in the following words. " At each 
corner of the city wall were two big sacrificial trees. In front of them, 
stakes had been driven into the ground and by means of cross-pieces a framework 
had been made ; on this framework in front of one tree were two bodies, and on the 

Fetish ami Kindred Ohseyvances, 


other framework in front of the other tree there was one body. At the foot of these 
trees the whole ground was strewn with human bones, and decomposing human 
bodies with heads cut off.* A little back from the trees, the bush was filled with dead 

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human bodies in all stages of decomposition, mostly decapitated and blown 
out by the sun; the mouths were skewered.^ Past the king's compound, 

1 " Three of the bodies looked like those of white men, but as they had been there some time and 
the heads cut off and removed, it was impossible to decide whether they were European or negro ; 
we judged them to be bodies of white men by an examination of their hands and feet, but not being 
certain, we resolved not to mention the matter further then " — F.N.R. 

2 In Ashanti, until quite recently, a man to be captured was practically skewered first so that he 
could not utter the password, when captured, and so claim the king's clemency. 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvovs. 

up the main road a horrible sight met my gaze, for strewn about an acre of 

ground with Httle grass growing, were several hundred skulls and newly dead bodies ; 

the owners of the latter had all been sacrificed, as the bodies were all tied with their 

hands behind them,, and also to 
stakes driven into the ground ; the 
victims seemed for the greater part 
to have been tied down on their 
backs, but some on their bellies, 
and some spread-eagled ; there 
appeared to have been no rule as 
to how the killing was to be done. 
In some of the pits could be plainly 
seen a lot of dead bodies, and 
the stench was overpowering. On 
the first afternoon of our arrival, 
we heard faint noises coming from 
one of these pits, and on send- 
ing down a party to ascertain 
whether any living victims w'ere 
there, two boys in a very emaciated 
condition were brought up. One 
(Fig. 66) had three curious holes in 
his head caused by a sacrificial club, 
and the other had had his neck 
beaten almost to a pulp by the 
wooden rattles found on the altars 
of the juju houses. Both these 
]ads recovered and stated they had 
belonged as carriers to Phillips' 
ill-fated expedition ; they also stated 
that all the white men belonging 
to that expedition were killed on 
the road. Other captives were 
released from other pits. One 
captive who had been saved by 
our arrival had belonged to a 
gang of nine from Accra, cons- 
tituted of Kruboys, Jekris, Sobos 
and Lagos men, who had been sent 
up to collect rubber. These men 
must have been watched by the 
Bini, for they had revolvers, but 
one night when asleep they were 
pounced upon by the Bini and 
taken prisoners. They had been 
in Benin about two months, and 
were only allowed to sleep while 
standing, being tied to posts in the 

huts by means of a rope round their necks, so that if they tried to lie down they 

Fig. 74. 

Wooden head covered with thin brass as 
shown on the altar in fig. 73 in Benin City. 
Similar objects were to be seen on the altar in 
the house of the Ewagwe. Mr. C. Punch 
thinks the feather, of brass covered wood, 
had a religious meaning. " The Ahurakus 
wore them so, using the red feathers from a 
parrot's tail I also saw a priest in the Ikale 
country dressed with just such a feather of large 
size. I fancy he belonged to the Benin fetish, 
as he spoke of it, Ikale is in Lagos territory 
but the people are distinctly of Bini or Sobo 

Fetish and Kindyed Ohsevvances. 6g 

would hang themselves. Other captives were found fixed to big logs with staples 
driven in over their wrists, but an examination of their wrists pro\ed they had not 
been there long; in some cases, it took us over an hour to cut the staple out of the 
hard wood ; it also took some four men to lift one of tlie logs, and as only two men 
were attached to each log, there was not much chance of the poor fellows running 
away. Other captives had heavy chains on wrists and ankles. Besides human beings, 
animals had also been sacrificed. In one compound I saw a dog, some fowls and 
other birds hanging by the legs ; one fowl was still fluttering round the neck of a 
more than life-sized human figure; the latter was roughly carved of wood, and seated 
on pedestals with arms folded it reminded me of ancient Egyptian monuments." 

Commander Bacon tells us that on the advance of the Punitive Expedition 
" laid on the grass where two paths met, was a young woman horribly mutilated, a 
rough wooden gag tied in her mouth was clenched tightly by her teeth, which with 
the expression of her face told of the agony of her murder. At her feet lay a goat 
with its knees broken. I asked the guide what it meant, and he said it was to prevent 
white man coming further.^ A few yards further brought us to another; this time a 
man, with his arms tied behind him, lying on his face in the path, but for some reason 
not decapitated, which as a rule is the second form of sacrifice." (p. 80.) When in 
the city, Bacon refers to one of the Jekri carriers of Phillips' expedition, who " was 
led out for sacrifice, only the boss juju man said his head was a bad shape, and 
would bring bad luck to the city, so he got off." (p. 98.) 

"To convey," says Dr. AUman in "The Lancet," of 3rd July, 1897, "^cme idea 
of the number of crucifixions and sacrifices witnessed in this 'City of Blood' it will 
be necessary to enter into a few gruesome details. Facing the principal entrance to 
the king's compounds, stood a large sacrificial tree on which two bodies were crucified, 
and scattered in all directions around its base, lay numbers of decapitated and dis- 
embowelled sacrifices, in various stages of decomposition, amongst which were the 
decapitated remains of three Europeans, w^ho had evidently been gagged and their 
hands bound behind their back before execution. A few hundred yards to the south 
of the main entrance, already alluded to, stood another sacrificial tree, on which was 
crucified the body of a woman, and at its base three other eviscerated bodies, also 
women, were found. Continuing my way to the south I came upon the large plain 
leading to the Gw^ato path, and there witnessed one of the most horrible sights that 
it is possible for the human mind to conceive, i.e. one hundred and seventy six newly 
decapitated and mutilated human sacrifices strewn about in all directions, besides 
countless numbers of skeletons — truly, a most gruesome sight, and one not to be 
easily forgotten. I will not describe any more of these horrible details; suffice it to 
say that sacrifices were found in nearly every portion of the city, some of the bodies 
being most brutally and cruelly mutilated. Before closing this tale of blood I may, how- 
ever, give a brief sketch of the huge pits, seventeen in number, found principally in the 
vicinity of the regal palace. These pits were of enormous dimensions — 12 feet in 
diameter and 40 feet deep. Seven of these contained human sacrifices, from fifteen 
to twenty in each pit; out of these 'foulsome pits' the stench emitted being intoler- 
able, we rescued with great difficulty seven unfortunate captives, who for several 
days afterwards could hardly realise what had happened; two of -them were carriers 
on Mr. Phillips' ill-fated expedition." 

1 A fetish snake was placed in the paths by the Whydahs on one occasion to prevent the Daho- 
mans attacking them. (Norris, p. 69.) 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Avt and IIovvovs. 

In the above accounts we find that men or women have been indiscriminately 
sacrificed, yet Beauvais writing of the Yam and Coral Feasts (p. 144) says : " On 
both occasions they sacrifice man and male animals only ; they never sacrifice 
Avomen or female animals, either on account of their usefulness or so as not to 
interrupt procreation." 

In the interesting account of Bini customs collected by Captain Roupell from 
some of the native officials, we get the first clear account of the various sacrifices and 
what evils they were intended to avert. They say " The first King of Benin, Eweka, 
we are told, made human sacrifices, and taught his son to do so too — that is why we 

Fig. 75. — Altar in Benin City with peeled wands, earthenware pots (Figs. 
79 and 80) and carved staves (Fig. 76). "The small wands peeled white, figured 
in many, perhaps, of the rites, and were laid upon the altar afterwards. In Cheet- 
ham's time they were carried in front of the Europeans. The king's method of 
closing a road was to place two such wands crossed in front of its entrance. Once, 
in my time, he wished to close the road from Igoro to Ikro, and put up the wands, 
but his orders were disobeyed. He wished to kill a man, and lay him in the path 
to make the closure respected, but I asked him not to do so, and the wands not 
being sufficient, they were finally taken away and the road was open " (C. Punch). 
From a photograph by Mr. R. K. Granville. 

have always made sacrifices — but now the white man has come, he must look out for 
the country. The people who were kept for sacrifice were bad men or men with bad 
sickness — they were all slaves ; if a man had a slave who killed man or did very bad, 
he could give him to Overami who put him in jail, and when a man was needed to be 
sacrificed for the good of the town, they could take him. The ordinary yearly sacri- 
fices were : 

" I. The anniversary of Adolo's death. Adolo was Overami's father. 
For this, the great sacrifice of the year, twelve men were taken, twelve cows, twelve 
goats, twelve sheep, and t\vel\ e fowls. The offerings were brought into the big com- 

Fetish and Kindred Observances. 71 

pound and put in line in front of and facin*^ the altar ; then Overami dressed in very 
fine clothes came in and calling Adolo his father loudly by name, said like this. ' Oh, 
Adolo, our father, look after all Ado [Great Benin], don't let any sickness come to us, 
look after me and my people, our slaves, cows, j^oats, and fowls, and everything in 
the farms.' Then the men who were in front were led to the well at the back of the 
compound with gags tied in their mouths, and held each by four strong men ; the 
executioners cut off their heads, which, with the bodies, were thrown into the pit. 
The animals were killed near the altar, and the blood from them was sprinkled on 
the big ivories and brass work. The beef was then distributed among the people. 
These twelve men were bad men who had been collected during the year — it was just 
after this that Mr. Phillips and his men wanted to come — the king did not want it 
[i.e., the Expedition which would prevent human sacrifice] , as white man fashion and 
black man fashion are different." 

" 2. The Bead [Coral] Sacrifice. Once a year at the end of the rainy season, 
all the king's beads were brought out by the boys in whose care they were kept. 
The beads were put in a heap, and a slave was brought in and made to kneel down ; 
then the king with a spear ' chock,' i.e., cut or struck his head so that the blood ran 
over the beads ; then the ' boy ' in whose care these beads were, put his hands on 
them, and Overami addressing the beads said : ' Oh, beads, when I put you on give 
me wisdom and don't let any juju or bad thing come near me.' Then the slave was 
told : ' So you shall tell the bead juju when you see him.' The slave was then led 
out and beheaded, the head being brought in again, the beads and the men touched 
it, and it was finally left at the foot of the big Oroco tree in the first compound.^ 
Thompson Ibodudu the w^iite black man was killed last year for bead sacrifice. 
When we were going to kill him he prophesied that if we killed him, the white man 
would come and spoil Ado, so now everyone says ' See what Ibodudu said has indeed 
come to pass.' 

" 3. The sacrifice to the Rain God. If there is too much rain, then all the 
people would come from farm and beg Overami to make juju, and sacrifice to stop 
the rain. Accordingly a woman was taken,^ a prayer made over her, and a message 
saluting the rain god put in her mouth, then she was clubbed to death and put up in 
the execution tree so that the rain might see." 

" 4. The sacrifice to the Sun. In the same way if there is too much Sun so 
that there is a danger of the crops spoiling, Overami can make sacrifice to the Sun 

" 5. The sacrifice to the God of Health. When the doctor had declared a man 
had died owing to Ogiwo, if they think an epidemic imminent, they can tell Overami 
that Ogiwo vex ; and then he can take a man and a woman, all the town can fire 

1 For other accounts of the coral feast, see p. 76. 

2 In Adams' time at Lagos, young women brought up for the purpose were impaled, one annu- 
ally, to propitiate the favour of the rain goddess (p. 97). A European resident at Onitsha once 
nearly-got into trouble over rain-making. He tells me : "I can remember once soon after my arrival 
at Onitsha getting into trouble through what I meant to be a perfectly mnocent enquiry. It had the 
appearance of rain, and meeting an African on the road, I asked him if it was likely to rain. My 
friend became greatly excited at this question. * Am I God ' he said, ' to make it rain or stop rain- 
ing ? ' I was somewhat astonished at the outburst, and hastened to assure him, as well as my very 
limited knowledge of his language would allow, that I meant no offence by the question. It seems^ 
however, that he thought I was endeavouring to pick a quarrel with him. There are men in these 
parts who go by the name of ' rain-makers,' and who profess to have the power to make it rain or 
stop raining when they like. This man thought I had taken him for a ' rain-maker.' " 

72 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

guns and beat drums, the man and the woman are brought out, and the head jujuman 
can make this prayer. ' Oh, Ogiwo, you are a very big man, don't let any sickness 
come for Ado, make all farm good and every woman born man son.' Then to the 
slaves he would say, ' So you shall tell Ogiwo, salute him proper, salute him proper.' 
They were then clubbed to death, and hauled up and tied in the sacrifice trees." 

" When a man dies he goes to god there Ogiwo, and all spirits live, but god puts 
white man in another country." 

To this list of occasions when it was customary to shed human blood, which 
omits all mention of the Yam feast, we may add the general one of common danger 
when an enemy was at the city's gates. In fact, any excuse could be made for sacri- 
fice, as was the case when Landolphe once visited the city, for the king had an 
unlimited power, being fetish, and his great chiefs, who were at the bottom of the 
massacre of Phillips party, evidently had no one to check their deeds. 

Neither Dapper nor the officials say that the blood of the human victims was 
sprinkled on the ivories and metal work on the altars, but Landolphe noticed it (I., p. 55), 
and Dr. Allman, who was with the Punitive Expedition, informs me he found blood 
and human entrails on the altars, and my brother, likewise medical officer to the 
Expedition, tells me the same. The native officials, no doubt, have some diffidence in 
giving the whole truth on this matter. Captain Roupell tells me that in the com- 

FiG. 76, — Wood Rattle, used in ceremonies (and placed on altars, Fig. 75.) to rouse the 
attention of the spirit. In the possession of the Author. On this, Mr. Punch remarks : 
" The carved staves, sometimes of ivory, were supposed to represent bambus. I saw some 
half carved, and though often ornamented with figures, the main idea portrayed was a jointed 
bambu. The top joint was hollowed, and a small piece of wood or ivory left inside so that 
when the staff was struck on the ground it rattled This was done to call the attention of 
the spirit invoked. I never heard of these staves being used as a means of execution, nor 
were they strong enough for such a purpose. The king himself shewed me their real object, 
and rattled the stick most vigorously." 

pound where the altar to the King's father stood, the ground near the well was, for 
many yards from the altar, caked hard and green in colour with the blood of human 
victims sacrificed there. 

The officials do not refer to the annual parade of their King, but of course their 
notes do not profess to mention all the festivals. From their descriptions, however, 
it is to be seen that the main object of the festivals was the sending of prayers, by 
means of the special messengers, for the welfare of the community, to the spirits of 
the departed, or to other spirits, such as the spirits of the beads, the Rain-God, the 
Sun-God, the God Ogiwo, thus explaining a cult of world-wide prevalence. 

The "Making of one's father" is thus referred to by Dapper. "They also 
keep, by order of the King, several feast-days in remembrance of the deceased kings, 
on which occasions they make horrible sacrifices of men and animals, amounting to 
four or five hundred a year ; but they never slaughter more than twenty-three men 
a day.^ These are mostly criminals who deserve death, and who have been kept 

1 The King of Dahomey at his customs, i.e., " making his father," sacrificed men, women, horses, 
cattle, goats, fowl, etc., cut off their heads, and threw them into a pit, to go and serve, as he said, 
his father in the next world. Brandy, maize, kerchiefs, silks and all sorts of victuals and stuffs were 
also thrown in. On the death of his father he immolated 800 to 900 people " (Norris II., p. 30). 

Fetish and Kindred Observances, 






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74 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

imprisoned during the festivals. Mr. C. Punch describes from hearsay the annual 
ceremony of "making his father" by the king : " On the day of the ceremony, the open 
space, which I have already spoken of, was packed with people from the country. 
The victims were ranged in rows, sitting down opposite the gate of the compound. 
On this day, the king came out and was seen by the people. He was dressed in cloths 
of gold and silver tissue, and coral head dress. He addressed the victims in a kind 
voice, telling them he was sending them with a message to his father. They were 
to salute his father, and tell him that his son was not ready to join him yet, but he 
sent them, the victims, to be with his father and salute him. 

" Most of the victims, I was told, said 'yes they were ready to go,' and would do 
the king's command. Here and there, one or two would rise, tor they were unbound, 
and approach the king, and beg him to let them off. Some he would excuse. Then 
the massacre began. The Okerison went round with an instrument like a metal tube 
with a heavy spike working in it, with a knob of metal at the end. The victim 
remained sitting, and the Okerison placed the tube on his head and then struck the 
heavy knob and spike so as to penetrate the skull. I was told only the first few were so 
despatched, and afterwards assistant executioners cut off heads with cutlasses, the 
victim being stretched out by ropes to his head and feet. The remains were after- 
wards gathered up and thrown into the hole in the compound." 

In the same way as the human sacrifices were originally only part of the religious 
observances of the Bini, so too were the periodical parades of the king and his court, 
the yam feast, and other festivals. According to D. R., the king " twice a year^ makes 
a circuit of the town ; that is, he goes out of his court to view here and there, and 
visits the town. He then shows all his power, wealth, and all merry making things 
and amusements he can think of, and can bring forth. He is accompanied by all his 
wives, which may be above six hundred in number, who are, however, not all his 
w^edded wives, but his concubines." 

By Dapper we are told, " The king shews himself only once a year to his people, 
going out of his court on horseback, beautifully attired with all sorts of royal orna- 
ments, and accompanied by three or four hundred noblemen on horseback and on 
foot, and a great number of musicians before and behind him, playing merry tunes 
on all sorts of musical instruments, as it is shown in the preceding picture of Benin 
city. Then he does not ride far from the court, but soon returns thither after a 
little tour. Then the king causes some tame leopards that he keeps for his pleasure 
to be led about in chains ; he also shows many dwarfs and deaf people, whom he likes 
to keep at his court. At this festival, ten, twelve, or thirteen slaves or even more, 
are killed by strangling or beheading, in the king's honour, for they believe that these 
slaves, after having been dead some time, go to another country and return to life 
again to a better condition, everyone getting his slaves again." Evidently, however, 
there were two royal processions in the year, for Dapper continues " There is also a 
day on which the king makes a great show of all his riches, consisting of jasper, 
beadwork, and other things at the court, for everybody to see them, giving away 
many slaves, women, and other things to those who deserve it. Then he also grants 
many appointments to the government of towns and villages." 

Dapper thus makes the bead or coral festival a distinct one from the 
annual parade of the king, but Nyendael makes one festival of the two. He 

1 When Gallwey visited the city, he was informed (p. 129) " the king only goes among his people 
once a year, the occasion being one of general rejoicing and feasting," 

Fetish and Kindred Observances. 


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76 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Tlovvoys. 

says, " The coral feast happened when I was at this great prince's court^ ; which, 
though it affords nothing very extraordinary, I will yet describe to you because it is 
the only day in the year when the king appears in public. He came most magnifi- 
cently dressed to the second plain, where, under a very fine canopy a seat was placed 
for him ; and there also his wives, and a great number of his officers of the first 
rank, all in their richest dresses, ranged themselves around him, and soon after 
began a procession, after w^hich the king also removed from his throne in order to 
sacrifice to the gods in the open air and thereby begin the feast ; which action is 
accompanied with the universal loud acclamations of his people. After passing 
about a quarter of an hour in this manner, he returned to, and again sat down in his 
place, where he stayed two hours, in order to give the remainder of the people time 
to perform their devotions ; which done he returned home. The remainder of the 
day was spent in splendid treating and feasting, and the king caused all sorts of 
provisions and ' pardon-wine ' to be distributed in common to all, and all the great 
followed his example ; so that on that day nothing is seen throughout the whole city 
but all possible marks of rejoicing." 

Legroing and Balon thus describe a coral feast: "About 3 p.m., 14th May, 1787, 
the king preceded by people carrying all his coral, and accompanied by his grandees, 
approached a mausoleum in one of his courts. He was simply dressed in w^hite, and 
was followed by doleful music. He stood on the lowest step of the tomb and every- 
one stood upright in two parallel lines, the first places being reserved for us. Then 
an unfortunate man with a gag in his mouth was brought in and made to kneel down, 
whereupon one of the grandees, armed with a club, dealt him a blow on the head, 
and as the blood flowed out, the negroes called fiadors hastened up with the bunches 
of coral, which is the royal ornament, to make them touch the bleeding head. A 
bullock and a sheep were also sacrificed, and the tomb sprinkled with the blood. 
During this ceremony the king laughed boisterously, signing to us to see what was 
going on." (p. 177.) Beauvais speaks of human and animal sacrifices as essential 
for the coral festival, the main object of which is to immerse the coral of the king, of 
his wives, and of the fiadors, in the blood of the victim, in order to induce the coral 
fetish never to let them want this precious commodity, (p. 144.) 

Nyendael remarks : " I w^as not able to discover the nature and object of this 
coral feast, because the negroes would not give me any account or explanation of it: 
their only answer to that question whenever I put it being, ' we don't know anything 
about it.' " Coral was highly esteemed and was a royal gift. Details of this will 
be found in the chapters relating to Government and Trade. 

There was also the feast of " Making one's Head," perhaps not a very important 
one, or only important to certain individuals. "The x\huraku, at Eguatun 'made his 
head' once a year. To say 'my head is good' does not mean I am clever, but that 
'my destiny is good.' For instance, I have often been told since that 'my head was 
good to have come out of Benin safely.' Every year the Ahuraku 'made his head' 
so as to have good luck for the coming year. When the king 'made his head' there 
would probably be human sacrifices." (C. Punch.) 

An important feast, not mentioned by Roupell's officials but nevertheless 
probably included by them in the sacrifices to the Rain God and Sun God, was that 
known a? the Yam Feast. Of this Beauvais says : " Although the yam feast is not 

1 Elsewhere he says Benin in his time was only a large village, hence one would surmise there 
could be no great prince's court. 

Fetish and Kindred Ohsevvances. 


held without human sacrifices, they are not its chief object. The yam is for the Bini 
what wheat is to Europeans, and in order to get the natives to attend to its culture 
and get them out of their natural lethargy, a sort of trick is played every year. After 
the natives have been immolated, an earthenware pot containing some soil and a yam 
from the last season are brought before the king. The prince in full \iew of his 
subjects places the root in the pot and covers it with the soil. The songs and dances 
then proceed. While the people are givir% themselves up to their pleasures, the 
fiadors who enjoy the intimacy of the king, substitute a similar pot in which there is 

Fig. 8i, — Bronze Rattle ? Something similar is made in 
Yoruba for calling Shango, the lightning god; small stones 
are put inside and it is rattled. 

a well developed yam, and the people, who firmly believe in this rapid growth 
admire it much. The bigger the growth the more plentiful will the season be, and 
they manifest their satisfaction accordingly" (p. 144). Landolphe only refers to it as 
follows : " Yams are harvested only once a year, at the end of June or in the early 
days of July. When the harvest is nearly ready, the King of Benin declares several 
fast days throughout the Kingdom, and prohibits his subjects from eating new yams 
until he has received his first twentieth. A festival is then proclaimed called the 

Yam Feast, which lasts four days, 
in which dancing and farcical merry- 
making take place, and forms one 
of the four chief annual feasts " (I., 
p. 56). " The feast of new yams 
was moveable at the king's discre- 
tion between about Nov. loth to 
the end of the year. The whole of 
the town was crowded with people 
to see the plays and there was a 
regular orgie. It was during this 
time that Phillips decided to go up, 
eat new yams till the king had 

Fig. 82.— Metal Pot, 
similar to earthenware 
pots such as were in 
domestic use, and as 
were put full of food 
on the juju altar at a 

and it would be a bad time to go. No one could 
made the ceremonies" (C. Punch). ^ 

" Special fetes have no fixed dates, and there are some which depend upon the 
wishes and means of individuals. The king generally celebrates twice a month, 
during which an indefinite number of slaves and animals succumb " (Beauvais, p. 145). 
One such, which Landolphe says was got up in his honour, he thus describes : " In 
an immense court 1 saw at least 2000 negroes of both sexes and all ages ; in their 
midst were twelve enormous drums, seven feet long, made of hollow bambu covered 
with goat skin at one end, which gave forth a rumbling noise under the strokes of 
drum-sticks. These lugubrious sounds were joined to those of a dozen blacks, some 
of whom blew like madmen into elephant tusks which were perforated at intervals 
like our church serpents, whilst others did not succeed much better with cowherds' 

1 The celebration of the Yam festival appears to be widespread, from Dahomey to Calabar, but 
is differently carried out in the various localities (Allen & Thomson, London, Narr. II., p. 398). 


Great Benin — Its Custoins, Art ami Hovrovs. 

horns. The result was an awful discord which one must have heard to appreciate. 
During this concert, the king was seated in a tent [sic] surrounded by the big men and a 
nuiltitude of courtezans, such as are met with in many parts of the world." Much lasciv- 
ious dancing was going on, and the king asking him what he thought of it all, he replied 
without lying that he had never seen anything like it. " While the musicians 

mcreased their din a black was brought in gagged, with a fme white cloth round his 
loins, and stopped about a hundred paces from the king, and in the meanwhile the 
music got worse. Two masked men covered with a dress which touched the ground, 
that looked to be seven feet high approached the king to receive his instructions, 
and at the end of a few minutes they took their places at the side of the victim. One of 
them had aheavy club, perforated at the top, where was to be seen a small carved figure 
representing the devil, which when shaken made a noise like that of a bell. He tells the 
victim that Lolocou i.e. the de\il,is about to take him. The other man who is equally 
armed, places himself behind the unfortunate men, to whom the tirst executioner 

Fetish and Kindred Ohsevvances. 


has presented the demon's fetish to kiss — that is the death signal. Struck on the 
head in front and behind, the victim totters but is caught by llie executioners, who 
lay him on the <>^round, leaning his head over a large copper basin, when it is cut off 
by a single stroke of the damas [sic] , and the flowing blood is sprinkled on the 
tombs of the kings." (I., pp-, 114-118.) It is fair to mention that Landolphe tried 

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to induce his servant to get the king to stop this murder, but the man replied that if 
he made such an attempt, his own head might be made to drop. (I., p. 117.) About this 
time Beauvais writes: "In 1787 I was an eye-witness at the yam festival, and at two 
special ones. One of the latter was celebrated by the king. Fifteen men, fifteen 
bullocks, fifteen rams and fifteen cocks were sacrificed. At the festival celebrated 
by the war-captain Jabou [Ojomo] who is one of the king's four ministers, three men, one 
bull, one bullock, one ram and three cocks were killed. With the exception of the number 
of victims, and of less gorgeous arrangements, the ceremony was the same as carried 
out for the king. It was as follows : " Several hours before the ceremony the 
minister and his suite came to the king's compound ; the suite consisted of several 

8o Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

musicians, some whistling in a sort of extended cornet, others in flutes faulty and dis- 
cordant, while some drummed on copper cauldrons; then came the fiadors of one, 
two, and three coral necklaces, who immediately preceded the minister. Behind him 
were a dozen of his wives who, I was told, were the most favoured ones for the time 
being. He was richly dressed according to the custom of the country, and held in 
his hand a large oval cutlass, perforated like one of our cullenders, and finished off at 
the end of the handle by a large fixed ring; he wore several pieces of cloth of various 
values, placed one above the other round his loins, as low as his knees ; the rest of 
his body was nude excepting his three row coral necklace {a trois branches) and several 
others of agate and of glass trinkets. Several feathers of the white heron (Ardca alba, 
Linn.) mixed with the tail feathers of the veuve (Eniberiza vidua, Linn.) decorated his 
head. The women, dressed like him, were so weighted with necklaces that their chests 
were almost entirely covered. Their hair, artistically arranged, and divided by 
meshes into which were worked pieces of coral, was formed into an indefinite number 
of small circles which contrasted coquettishly with the black colour of their skin and 
hair, the little short hairs in front being singed either by the sun's rays or by means 
of a hot iron, as I was told. The war captain remained with the king about 75 
minutes, when he returned as he came, with his suite, but he had hardly gone half- 
way when all of a sudden he began to imitate the movements of a drunken man 
ready to fall down, rolling from side to side towards the people, who fled precipitately. 
He repeated this three times, and each time he threw his cutlass in the air and 
caught it smartly by the handle. Arrived at his door, but before his third inspiration, 
the minister signed me to follow him, but I dare not speak to him. I was introduced 
into a hall, where I remained more than half an hour with the fiador who had charge 
of me, and of a ram whose approaching fate I was far from guessing. At the end of 
this time I saw all the minister's wives arrive, about 400 in number; they seemed 
fairly pretty and well made ; their colour varied from a deep black to a tint inclining 
to yellowy from which I concluded they came from various countries. It is hardly 
necessary to say that they looked atj me with as much interest as I looked at them, 
(pp. 147-8.) I was then conducted to the locality where the ceremonies are held. It 
is a large place about 26 to 33 metres (80-100 feet) long, and about two-thirds as 
large. One end was covered by a roof, under which there is an altar differing little 
from ours; it was ornamented on both sides by two large elephant tusks, on which 
I noticed rudely carved figures, which appeared to me to have no other object 
than to satisfy the fancy of the workman. The minister's wives were placed on 
steps on each side of the altar ; at their feet, to the right, the minister was seated in 
a w^ooden armchair ; he placed me with my conductor opposite to him. In front 
were the fiadors, seated on benches, the animals to be killed were placed on the left 
at the opposite side, and the end opposite the altar was full of people. Up to then I 
had seen no signs of human victims. At a sign from the War Captain, the ceremony 
began by a plaintive and monotonous chant by the people, who accompanied it by 
rubbing their hands, or rather beating them together. The first chant being finished, 
my attention was called to a noise at the other, end. And what did I see ? The 
remembrance of a similar scene, which I now saw for a second time, restrains my 
pen and still causes me to shudder. There were three negroes, almost entirely nude, 
with a single piece of white cloth round their loins, their hands tied behind their 
backs, and in their mouths a bone [gag] of what sort of an animal I do not know, 
fastened at its ends by two pieces of string fastened behind the head. A tall negro, 
with a sword by his side, and a piece of red cloth round his loins, made them kneel 

Fetish aud Kindred Ohsevvances. 


down. All the blacks assured me they were not criminals. But, if so, why tie their 
hands behind them and why ga^ them ? The arrival of these unfortunates was the 
signal for the commencement of the second chant, which was as unpleasant and 

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as inharmonious as the first. Wlien this ceased, three fiadors came up to receive 
from the War Captain a stick each, of a sort of hollow reed {roseau creux). They 
dipped them three times in the hole containing the offerings made in the centre* of the 
ground in front of the altar, and then, retiring to the victims, struck them lightly 



Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Honors. 

each three times on the forehead. The victims appeared cahii and not afraid of the 
fate which awaited them. I noticed also, in confirmation of the fact above mentioned, 
that they all possessed visible defects which would have caused their rejection by the 
slave traders. ,The people now monotoned the third chant, which lasted longer than 
the other two, until after the execution. The executioner, who is not a priest, but a 
man devoted to this function and to the cutting off of criminals' heads, advanced to the 
middle of the place, and after receiving the approbation of the minister retired to the 
victims, whose heads he cut off after having thrown them on to the ground on their 
bellies. Each head was presented to the people and the bodies carried and drawn 

Fig. 8G.— Bronze head. This is 
probably one of a series Hke those 
shown in Figs. 84 and 85, for carrying 
tusks. In Bacon's book there is an 
ilhistration of an altar with a series of 
seven heads very similar to this one, 
each carrying a tusk (pp. 87 & 89). 
There is also in the British Museum a 
copy of a sketch by Capt. Egerton of a 
series of bronze heads carrying tusks. 
There were, however, some altars on 
which the carved tusks simply stood 
against the wall and were not supported 
by heads (F. N. Roth). Lieut. King 
mentions tusks placed in rows curiously 
carved, the points turned towards the 
wall, hut says nothing about heads. 
Legroing and Balon saw the mausoleum 
of the father of the War Captain, and 
says of it : " The chief decorations con- 
sisted in eight carved wooden heads 
[figures = faces] which supported eight 
elephant tusks, one of which was eight 
feet long" (Labarthe p. 175). To go 
still further back we have Nyendael 
speaking of tusks placed on men's heads 
cast in copper, and others placed on 
ivory pedestals. 

on to the roads outside the town, where it was not long before they w'ere devoured in 
the day-time by the vultures, which are not allowed to be killed, or at night by wild 
animals which abound in this country (p. 149). The women, who until then had 
remained purely passive spectators, took part in the fourth chant, which was more 
lively and animated than the preceding ones. They joined their voices to those of 
the men, of whom the most excited were drunk, quite as much by fanaticism as by 
bourdon wine or brandy, and who held each other tightly under the arms, beating 
time with their feet on the still reeking place where this abominable outrage had 
been committed. This ceremony completed, the animals were sacrificed by almost 
identical methods ; but their flesh was distributed to the people after reserving what 
was necessary for the consumption of the minister. Finally, the festival was 
completed by the offerings which poor women presented;^ they came one after 

1 " The less fortunate who have no spare slaves sacrifice animals according to their means. The 
poorest are allowed to join in the sacrifice of the king and the richer ones, and offer up coconuts and 
other fruits, palm wine, bourdon wine, liquor extracted from a sort of palm or brandy." (Beauvais 
p. 14C.) 

Fetish and Kindred Observances. 


another to the foot of the altar, knelt down, and after several short prayers uttered 
in a low voice, they threw into the receptacle for offerings, pieces of coconut, yams, 
bananas and other fruit, which they watered with pahn wine, bourdon wine and 
brandy." (pp. 145-150.) 

A part of a fetish ceremony witnessed by Mr. C. Punch is thus described by 
him : " The people were ranged up leaving an open avenue up to the altar under the 
penthouse at the other end of the avenue, two of the king's boys held up a long bar of 
timber. I was taken up to the right-hand side to where the X is marked (Fig. 87), 
and found myself next to Ewagwe, whom 1 knew. 



Fig. 87. — Sketch plan to 



illustrate the position of the 



ividuals at a fetish cere- 



mony when Mr. C. Punch was 











King's position. 




Position of King's wives 


J'eople standing round. 



Boys holding the bar. 


Position of ]\Ir. C. Punch in 

D D 


the row of nobles. 
Rows of nobles. 

" The nobles -were all wearing their coral necklaces such as one notes on the 
bronze heads, so these were not confined to the king. Probably there would be rules 
as to the number of strings of beads. They were not made of European coral, but 
of the country agate beads. The nobles were bare to the waist, save for a few 
strings of coral beads of no large size. Below the waist they wore very full petti- 
coats ; they were stuffed out by under-petticoats of stiff coarse baize of European 
make, but the top kilt was the country grass cloth, spotted all over with blood 
splashed on like holy water, I cannot say if human or otlierwise. Sacrifices had 
been going on, but I cannot say if of animals or human beings. There were pools of 
either blood or water all over the compound, but I can vouch for the liberal supply 
of blood on the garments of the nobles. No man was allowed to wear clothes of silk 
except the king ; it was safer to keep to the nati\e grass cloths. Each noble had a 
weird head-dress, and held an ebere in his hand which he kept twisting round. At 
last the king and his wives came out and sat dowai. Tomtoms and horns made 
music, and dancing began. One or two of the nobles would step out and come up to 
the bar. Sometimes the bar w^ould be dropped and they advanced nearer to the 
king. The dancing was siniply posturing, twisting the ebcre, and sometimes pointing 
it to the ground in the king's direction. At others it was passed to the left hand, the 
right hst being held up towards the king in salutation, the fingers being opened and 
shut sexeral times. At times the king w^ould tread a dignified measure for the true 
delight of his people, and I think for the special admiration of the white-faced 
stranger. Anyhow he asked me afterwards if 1 admired his dancing, which 1 
naturally did." 

84 Gr]:at Benin — Its Customs, Avt and Horrors. 

Fawckner " saw a man who had given himself as a sacrifice to the fetish. 
A procession w^as formed, in all the splendour peculiar to those occasions, and 
the man was conducted amid a vast concourse of people to the river. Here 
according to the usual custom, they affix weights to the devotee's body, make him 
drunk, and sink him in the tide. As some sort of compensation, however, to the poor 
fellow, he was allowed for some time pre\ious to his being offered up, the privilege 
of going into the market whenever he felt inclined, and helping himself to whatever 
he fancied. I often saw him enter the market, but directly the women espied him 
coming, they invariably caught up their baskets and ran away " (p. 103). 

Mr. Punch knew a woman at Guato accused of being a malignant witch. " I knew 
she was in trouble about the matter, but nothing seemed to be done to her. One after- 
noon I heard business proceeding in the malaku house, and Brazilli, the interpreter, 
told me that the king had sent word she was to be tried by various ordeals again, but 
not by the saucewood. I went out to enquire into the matter, and found the woman and 
king's boys coming out of the malaku house. She looked rather dazed but said nothing ; 
two of the Guatun men were carrying very old delapidated mats with a weird col- 
lection of fetishes, bits of wood gnarled and knotted into queer shapes, fowl feathers, 
old bones, and other rubbish of the sort. The Ahuraku said they were doing some 
business but did not say what it was. Brazilli told me he was sure they were going 
to kill the woman, as she had asked him for some rum to drink. I stopped the 
Ahuraku in the woman's presence and asked what it was all about, and if any 
harm were intended to the woman. He replied quite naturally, ' Oh no, the king had 
sent to say that she was a bad woman and must be sent away from Guatun, and that 
they were sending her to Iguahami.' The woman said nothing, in fact she seemed 
to smile, and as it was well known that I could and would protect anyone appealing 
to me, I thought it was as he said. Presently two of the Guatun men came carrying 
mats and bottles of rum, much as they usually did when going on a journey. They 
went into the bush, and the woman went off" freely and unconcernedly with them. 
Later on Brazilli came in and told me that they had killed her ; they took her to the 
waterside and then gave her rum to drink, after which she drank as much water 
from the stream as she could, and lay down in it, the boys holding her down. How- 
ever she did not die quickly enough so they knocked her over the head with a club. 
I was told that those to be killed had rum given them if they wished it, but often 
refused it. 

" On another occasion I heard most fearful screams from the Ahuraku's house. 
A woman was accused of being a witch and denied it. They wished to make her 
confess, or at any rate prove her innocence by endurance of torture. She was sat 
down near a big log and her hand placed on it, an iron staple was then put over 
the wrist and driven into the wood. With ordinary prisoners, the staple would be 
driven in only far enough to hold them, but in cases of torture it was driven in till 
the torture was, of course, fiendish. The only way of getting the unfortunate 
woman out was by splitting the log, which, of course, was very soon done. 

" A curious superstition was that the millepede was too unclean for any man to 
touch. No one would by choice touch such an insect, but it was a strict law that 
when a millepede entered the king's quarters, it must be removed alive on a stick. 
If anyone forget himself and took the millipede in his hand or touched it, that person 
was killed." 

It was contrary to Bini fetish to go on tlie water. 


Difference made between poor and powerful — Suicide to order — Nobles arraigned before their 
peers — Native police — Judgement compound — Lex talionis — Punishment for divulging state 
secrets (86) — Punishment for theft from strangers — Method of execution — Theft — Robbery 
against officials— Murder — Punishment for murder without bloodshed — Other crimes — Five 
ordeals: Piercing the tongue — Piercing clod of earth (87) — Spurting juice into eyes — Stroking 
tongue with hot copper — Long juju— -Disposal of fines — Fire ordeal — Another form of ordeal 
by piercing the tongue (88) — Saucewood ordeal — Honesty of the ordeal— Fawckner's fate hangs 
on the throw of cowries — Landolphe's fetish discovers a thief. 

In a superstitious community like that of Benin punishment is naturally apt to be 
administered very capriciously, with one law for the poor and another for the rich and 
powerful ; we have seen that while a captive poor man has no chance of being saved, 
the rich man can find a substitute, and we have seen that those who are rich and not 
powerful are obliged to hide the fact of their being rich. Nevertheless Roupell's 
officials tell us "If any freeman or chief did very bad, king could send for him 
and tell him to go home and kill himself, then palaver settle, or if he would not, 
then king could send men and cut his head off at night." 

D. R. says of the Bini that they will not take " the least thing from a stranger, 
for that is punished very severely by capital punishment, for they very (juickly 
punish and with his life, and kill him who in the least lays hold of a stranger ; and 
they have a special method of execution, for first of all they bind the offender's arms 
behind his back, then they blindfold his eyes, one of the judges then comes and lifts 
up his arms abo^•e him so that his head hangs down almost to the ground, which the 
jailer or executioner then catches hold of and cuts off with an axe ; the body is then 
quartered and cast to the birds to devour, which they abhor and fear very much." 

According to Landolphe, " a member of the nobility accused of any offence or 
crime is arraigned before the Council of Big Men who convict him on the spot, by 
plurality of votes, either to pay a fine or to death, if the latter to have his head cut 
off. The council is always called together by the sounding of a tabor beaten in all 
the streets of the town or village which was the scene of the offence or crime. There 
is no body of armed men to arrest all sorts of criminals, the natives themselves 
helping one another in this respect" (II., 62). Landolphe however appears to forget 
that he has already spoken of a native police. He continues, " The people are judged 
in any inhabited district. In the centre of a large place there is a vast building open 
on all sides, in which the old men assemble who are in charge of this important work. 
Everybody is at liberty to enter and the most profound silence [sic] reigns. The 
accused has the right to choose someone to defend him, and the accuser makes his 
own charge, but if he does not bring sufficient proof he undergoes the punishment 
which would have been meted out to the accused. The fine imposed is paid forth- 
with, being always less tlian the fortune of the condemned, but in the case of the 

86 Great Benin — //5 Ciisfonis, Art and Horvors. 

death penalty the lex talionis is strictly carried out, nor are the sons of the king 
exempt " ■ (II., p. 63). 

Landolphe once saw a young man, con^'icted of divulging state secrets, fastened 
to the top of one of the high trees planted in the centre of the town, and exposed 
alive to the vultures, who tore out his eyes and destroyed other portions of his body. 
But neither he nor Beau\ais was able to sa^'e the man, the negroes simply 
laughing at their efforts (11. , p. 65). This seems to be the first record of crucifixion, 
and if correct shows that crucifixion had not always a sacrifical character. 

"The crimes here committed," says Nyendael, "are punished in the folloAving 
manner. Theft does not occur here very often, for the negroes here are not so 
thievish as at other places; however, when it happens, and the thief is caught, he 
is obliged to make restitution of the stolen goods, and besides, punished by a fine ; 
but if he be poor, after restoring the stolen goods if he can, he is very well beaten 
instead of being fined. But if the robbery be committed against any official, it is 
punished with the death penalty. However, as I liave already said, this crime so 
seldom occurs that examples are rarely heard of. If theft is seldom heard of here, 
of murder one hears still less. Whoever kills a man is punished with death ; but if the 
murderer happens to be the king's son, or some other influential person, he is banished 
to the utmost borders of the king's territories, to which he is conducted under a 
strong guard ; but as none of these banished persons are ever seen again, nor does 
any one e^•er hear of them again, the negroes take it for granted that their guard 
conducts them to the Elysian fields. If any person with his fist, or otherwise, 
unfortunately kills another, and the dead person did not bleed, and his death does 
not seem to have been due to violence, the slayer may purchase his life, by first 
respectably burying the dead creditably at his own cost, and afterwards producing a 
slave to suffer in his stead. This slave, doomed to an expiatory sacrifice, he is 
obliged to touch on his knees with his forehead as he is killed ; after which he is 
obliged to pay a handsome sum to the great lords, and this performed, he obtains his 
freedom ; and with this the friends of the deceased are obliged to rest satisfied. I 
have already informed you of the punishment for adultery.^ Whatever other crimes 
are committed, they are atonable with money, and the fine is proportionate to the 
offence. He who has no money must satisfy the fine by corporal punishment; so 
that where effects are deficient, the body must make good the fine. In case of 
accusations which are not clearly proved, the accused is obliged to clear himself 
by ordeal, which is practised in five several ways, four of which are performed in the 
case of slight offences and civil causes, and the fifth in the case of very great and 
important causes, such as high treason, designs on the life of the king, and other bad 
crimes. This last ordeal is only allowed to be gone through by important persons, 
and then only too by the king's order. 

" The first sort of ordeal is managed in the following manner : The accused is 
taken to the priest, who greases a cock's feather, and therewith pierces the tongue of 
the accused; if the feather passes easily through, it is a sign the man is innocent, 
and the wound made by the quill will soon close and heal up without any pain. But 
on the other hand, if he be guilty, the quill remains sticking in his tongue, and he is 
accordingly pronounced guilty.^ 

^ At Warri a king's son having accidentally killed a man by a blow in the chest with a gaff, he 
was in turn accused, condemned and killed by a blow in the chest with a club. Landolphe. 

2 See Marriage, p. 39. 

^ " Ordeal by fowl feather was practiced both in Benin and among the Jekries in our time, being 
only used for settlement of civil cases and where men were accused ol adultery." C.P. 

Punishments and Ordeals. 87 

" The second ordeal is practised in the following manner : Tlie priest takes an 
oblong clod of earth, into which he sticks seven or nine cock's quills, which the 
suspected person is obliged to draw out successively ; if tliey come out easily it is a 
sign of innocence; but if not, tlie prisoner is conxicted of the misdeeds alleged 
against him. 

"The third proof is made by spurting a certain juice of green herbs into the 
eyes of the accused person ; which, if it happen to do him no hurt, he is thought 
innocent ; but if his eyes become thereby red and inflamed, he is obliged to pay the 
fine laid on him. 

"For the fourth ordeal, the priest takes a red-hot copper arm-ring and strokes 
the prisoner three times over the tongue with it, and from his being hurt or not hurt 
thereby, they judge whether he be guilty or innocent. 

" I have seen all these four ordeals ; but all the accused were declared guilty, 
and not without reason; for it would be strange indeed if red-hot copper did not 
burn the tongue. The fifth and last. ordeal, which is not gone through once in twenty 
years, I never saw, and consequently have it only on hearsay. 

"If any person be accused of a very great crime, of which he is desirous to 
clear himself by ordeal, the king's leave being first asked and obtained, the accused 
is brought to a certain river, to which is ascribed the strange quality of wafting 
ashore without harm every innocent person plunged therein, though never so unskilled 
in the art of swimming ; and on the other hand, to sink the guilty to the bottom, 
though ever such a good swimmer ; by which means if he endeavour to help himself 
out, it would be in vain, and only render his death the more painful. They relate 
that the water, which beforehand was very calm, immediately upon a person on 
whom the guilt lies being thrown in, ruffles up and continues as turbulent as a whirl- 
pool, till the accused has sunk out of sight to the bottom ; when, as though perfectly 
satisfied, it returns to its former tranquility.^ 

" The fines levied for these misdeeds are divided as follows : — First, the person 
injured by the theft, or any other crime, is satisfied out of it ; then the governor has 
his part ; and last of all the before mentioned great lords have also their share. As 
for the king, whose ear it never reaches, he has no part thereof. If the three lords 
are contented with what is sent them, it is well ; but they frequently send their part 
back to the governors or viceroys, and in the king's n?,mc inform them, that the fines 
are too small, and consequently that they have not deported themselves in that affair 
according to their duty ; giving them also to understand what they ought to have 
done. Those to whom these orders are sent, though they very well know that the 
king never meddles in these affairs, but that it is only the order of the lords, are 
bound to strict obedience, and generally send in addition as much as is asked, lest the 
lords should play them some trick sooner or later." 

At Gwato, Fawckner met with two forms of ordeal, a fire ordeal and a cock's 
feather ordeal as above. He says : " The natives have a curious way of finding out 
a thief by a kind of fiery ordeal. It is as follows : A fire being lighted in front of the 
fetish house, they place an earthen pot on it, filled with some combustibles, which 
blaze like wild-fire, and at the bottom of this a small cowry is placed. All the 
inhabitants are convened around this fire, and the master of each family, surrounded 

1 •' Nyendael is apparently wrong here, as he is describing the long juju of the Aro country. The 
Jekri knew it and would send people to undergo it ; it may also have been heard of in Benin, but I 
think it quite improbable the Bini would have used the fetish of a country so far away as Aro. In 
fetish matters the king claimed to give his fetish to all the tribes round, including Dahomey." C.P 

88 Great Benin — 7/5 Customs, Art and Hovvors. 

by his household, all of whom place their hands on his back, at once proceeds to take 
the shell out of the burning pot. If he manages to get it out without burning his 
fingers, he is at once declared innocent ; but, on the contrary, if he fail, he and all 
his family are in] mediately pronounced guilty, and each individual member is obliged 
to go through the ordeal. Whoever in attempting to take out the shell, therefoire, 
burns his fmgers is innnediately declared to be the thief, and punished accordingly. 
Another mode, equally singular, is occasionally resorted to. The persons suspected 
are made to kneel down on the ground, and each one puts out his tongue. The 
fetish man immediately covers it with a certain mixture, and places over the surface 
a small leaf. He then takes a feather, and endeavours to push the quill part through 
the tongue ; if he succeed, and can draw the whole of the feather clean through, the party 
operated upon is at once declared innocent ; but should he fail in the first attempt to 
push the feather through, the poor creature at once suffers the extreme penalty of 
the law. This is a shocking and most revolting spectacle for an Englishman to 
witness, which I never could look on without feelings of horror and disgust ; 
although the natives assured me it was not much pain, and the wound soon healed. 
They put great faith in this last mentioned trial, and often cause the thief to walk 
about the town as an example whilst the wound is unhealed " (pp. 103-5). 

" At Guatun (Gwato) once there was a trial by ' saucewood,' " writes Mr. Punch. 
" Three Jekri people accused of witchcraft came to Guatun to prove their innocence. 
They came of their own free will, and sent presents to the king asking him to send 
his messengers with the ' saucewood.' A day was appointed sometime ahead and the 
accused remained in their canoes, on good terms with the Guatun people, and appar- 
ently light-hearted and free from anxiety. I thought the matter was a breach of the 
king's promise to me that no horrors should take place in Guatun, and remonstrated. 
He said he was sorry, but the people came of their own free will, and Guatun was 
one of the places on the riverside devoted to the practice, so that he could not refuse. 
I said in that case I should leave the place until it was over, and did so. Other 
Europeans stayed in the village and saw the whole ordeal. There were two women 
and one man. They made ceremonies, and for a day before the trial touched no 
palm oil, which is a daily article of food, as the poison was said to be more fatal if 
any palm oil had been eaten. 

" On the morning, the king's messengers arrived with the saucewood, or bark of 
Erythrophlmim guineense. The Guatun people formed a passage, at one end of 
which were the king's messengers, and at the other end the accused kneeling, and 
each holding in his or her hand an egg. The bark was beaten in a mortar with 
water till it formed a paste, and was then made into three egg-shaped balls. The 
chief messenger then told the accused they were to swallow the ball, and if innocent 
it would be returned and they would be safe, if guilty they would die. The ball was 
then put into the empty hand and conveyed to the mouth. One woman seemed un- 
able to swallow hers, and the people helped her by pulling her back hair. As soon 
as the poison was swallowed, they were allowed to use any means to produce vomit- 
ing, drinking mud and water. The fowl's egg in the other hand was repeatedly 
passed up the stomach to the throat. It was supposed to exercise an influence on 
the poison and bring it out. Tiie accused vomited, and the messengers examined 
the vomit, declaring at once if the evil thing had come out. The man was unhurt, 
one woman threw up her arms and shrieked almost at once, and died instantly. The 
other woman vomited, but the evil thing did not come up, and the messengers said 
she was guilty and she would die, which she did in the evening, rolling over into a 

Pumshments and Ordeals. 


fire near which she was sittin^;. The bodies were thrown out into the bush, and 
were said to be very long in decaying.^ 

'' I do not think as a rule the administrators of the ordeal in Benin took bribes. 
As a fact, the parties undergoing the ordeal send large presents before the king sends 
down the poison. Of course some people say it was arranged beforehand if the dose 
was to be fatal, but my opinion is that as a rule the results would be left to the effect 
of the poison on different constitutions." 

On their way to Benin, the fate of Fawckner and his friends depended on the fall of 
the dice, or pitch and toss. ** The fetish man produced some cowries, or negroes' 
teeth as they are sometimes called, a small shell imported from the East Indies. 
The flat side is white, and convex red. These shells were to decide our fate in the 
following manner : They were to be thrown up into the air by this man, and on the 
turn of them our lives depended" (p. 50). 

Landolphe having been robbed of some fifty coral necklaces, warned his 
servants that if the guilty one on being interrogated did not acknowledge the 
theft, his [Landolphe's] fetish would burn his [the culprit's] beard. His fetish 
consisted in phosphor matches, which, when the tubes holding them were broken, 
became ignited; so calling up the negro he considered guilty, Landolphe caused 
the match to ignite and singe the man's beard. All the negroes fell frightened at his 
feet, promising to replace the coral and to thieve no further if only his fetish would 
spare them (II., p. 68). 

Fig. 88. — Various forms of Catfish Ornamentation. 
From Bronzes in British Museum. 

1 Yet a different sort of ordeal is described by Burton (p. 156) at Warri. " Two kinds of bark 
are used, that ot the young and that of the old tree, the latter not being too virulent. A quantity 
sufficient is beaten up with water, which is strained off after standing half-an-hour ; at the end of 
that time a quid of the fibre and a palmful of the juice are administered to the accused. If he 
return it he is innocent, if not, he is condemned ; guilt thus depends not upon the brains of a jury, 
but upon the strength of the stomach pure and simple. The idea here, as in other parts of Africa, 
is that the drug acts as an intelligent agent, which searches out and finds man's mortal sin. It is 
remarked that, as a rule, rich men escape where poor men die ; moreover that when a man has 
vomited, the priest administers a restorative which removes all traces of the operation. Perhaps it 
is fair to suspect that their reverences have some imitation of the bark which deceives the vulgar." 
According to the description given by Merolla (Churchill, I., pp. 613-15) it appears that the ordeals 
on the Congo are of a similar nature to those followed in Benin, 

At Old Calabar, Hutchinson describes eight forms of ordeal (Impressions, Lond., 1858, 
pp. 156-159). 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

As I go to press, Mr. C. Punch sends me the following note (fig. 89) on a Benin 
River Water Spirit : 

'''^'"MA C^ 


Aj A B /? A r r « 

Fig. 89. 
" All the part of Benin River in above sketch was haunted by a water spirit 
in the shape of a huge alligator, with a light in his head. The light would be 
seen at night by people in canoes and moored in the river, and offerings would 
thereupon be put into the water for the spirit lest it should come and break the canoe." 
This spirit is, therefore, that of Alagwe as recorded above by Roupell (p. 53), which 
destroys canoes, or it is another form of the same spirit. 

Fig. 90 Fig. 91 Fig. 92 Fig. 93 Fig. 94 


Figs. 90 to 94. 
Various forms of Snake Fetish in Benin Art : 

90. On a brass mask. British Museum. 

91. On a bronze sheath-like object. British 


92. On a bronze. 

93. On a brass mask. British Museum. 

94. Loose bronze snake attached to a rivet. 


Dapper's account — King's unlimited authority— Three high functionaries — Field Marshall (Captain 
of War) — Government of towns and villages — Corruption — Nyendael's account (92) — King's 
absolute power — Three great lords — Knowledge withheld from the king — Difficulty of obtaining 
audience with the king — Nominal authority of the king — The Members of the Council (93) — 
Their coral — Their functions — Official 's limit of freedom — The officials in ]\Ir. Punch's time 
(94) — Bestowal of coral (95) — Loss of coral punished by death — Examples — Coral a royal gift — 
Coral a patent of nobility — Delight of a recipient of the coral — The King's mark — Royal 
messengers— King's revenue (96). 

According to Dapper " the King of Benin governs with an unlimited authority , and 
calls all his subjects slaves, however great nobles they may be. No children are acknow- 
ledged as his slaves till they are shewn to the king by their father or their mother ; 
the king then orders them to be marked with a proper incision, then the children become 
slaves to the king like all the others ; for all his people, high and low, are bound to 
acknowledge themselves to be slaves to the king. There are among others three highest 
state counsellors in Great Benin appointed by the king for the government of the 
country. These are called by the Portuguese Fiadovs. They are the highest 
personages in the country next to the king, for above them there is nobody but 
the field marshall, who is nearest to the king, and the king's mother. They are in 
command of a quarter of the town, and draw great profits from this ; their official 
titles are Ongogue, Ossade, and Avvibo} So too, every town or village is governed by 
a certain number of chiefs or nobles, called Fiadors, who settle all questions other 
than those relating to corporal punishment, fining the accused according to the 
seriousness of the trespass ; but all the criminal affairs are referred to Great Benin, 
where the higher court is settled and sits every day. But the judges are often bribed 
by giving them cowries without the king's knowledge, although with the connivance 
of the greatest Fiadors. The village of Gotton (Gwato) is governed by five, and 
the village of Arbon^ by seven noblemen."^ 

1 " Ongogue is probably Ewagwe ; Ossade is obviously Ushadde or Uchudi, sometimes called 
Usudi ; Arribo is still the same as in my time." C.P. 

2 Arbon was on the Lubo or Olugbo creek and hence is probably identical with Uruegi, one of the 
two entry towns to Benin for Europeans, Gwato (Egutan, Guatun, Gotton, &c.) being the other. 

3 <• ^^ Warri the king usually has three great noblemen as his counsellors, who are in possession 
of certain parts of the country, over which they rule in the king's name, without anyone daring to 
hinder them. The king who reigned in the year sixteen hundred and forty, was a mulatto, called 
by the Portuguese and other Europeans Dom Antonio de Mingo. His father, de Mingo, had married 
a Portuguese girl, whom he had brought from Portugal, where he had personally been staying, and 
by whom he had got a son. He is dressed like a Portuguese, always wearing a sword or dagger by 
his side like other mulattoes." (Dapper.) 

92 Great Benin — Its Customs, Avt and Horvoys. 

Nyendael's account differs somewhat from the above. He says : " I have 
often observed here three states, besides the king, who governs absolutely, his will 
being a law and bridle to his subjects, which none of them dare oppose. Next to 
him, the first and highest state is composed of three persons, called here Great Lords, 
or Big Men, who are always near the king's person ; and any person that wants to 
apply to his majesty, is obliged to address himself first to them, and they undertake 
to acquaint him with the request and return his answer. But they are sure to inform 
him only of what pleases themselves, and consequently in the king's name they act 
as they think fit ; so that in reality the whole government depends solely on them ; 
which may the more easily happen, because, except a few, no persons are admitted 
into the king's presence, much less allowed to speak to him.^ The second state or 
rank is composed of those who are here called Are de Roe, or street-kings;^ some 
of whom preside over the commonalty, and others over the slaves ; some over 
military affairs, others over the affairs relating to cattle and the fruits of the 
earth, etc. And indeed, there is a particular supervision for everything that can 
be thought of. Out of the number of these Are de Roes are chosen the viceroys 
and governors of the countries which are subject to the king. These are all under 
the command of, and responsible to, the three great men on all occasions." Else- 
where he observes : " The government of this country is principally vested in the 
king and the three above-mentioned great lords; the first is nominal governor, and 
the last are really so. Each province has its particular governor, all of whom depend 
on the three great sources, [i.e. lords,] without whose consent they dare not act." 

From both of the above accounts it is clear that as knowledge of what was going 
on was kept from the king, there must have been chiefs who acted independently of 
their sovereign. That the chiefs did not at times so much as attempt to carry out the 
king's wishes came out very clearly at the king's trial, where it w^as proved that some 
of the chiefs acted directly contrary to his wishes. Lieut. King seems to have 
understood *'that the meanest subject who has a complaint to make has the right 
to address the king personally," but he must have been misinformed, as the obstacles 
placed in the way of seeing the king was one of the special features of Benin. "The 
king himself did not like it, because by this means the nobles learnt beforehand all 
that was being said to the king. Especially did these nobles keep a zealous watch 
on the presents sent him. He appointed one of his boys to receive any messenger 
and conduct him into his presence at once, but the nobles managed nearly always 
to get hold of the messenger and detain him. It was the same with a European — 
he had so many nobles to see that he was exhausted with delays before he could 
get to the king, who complained that ' his eye was not allowed to catch ground.' 
Nevertheless, he was by no means a nonentity. The king could and did do as he 
pleased, subject to the drawback that he could not leave his quarters, and consequently 
his orders were not carried out." (C. Punch). But even so far back as in 
Landolphe's time a case occurred tending to show that the power of the king was 

1 Landolphe mentions casually that the Europeans who brought any complaint before the 
king were afraid of their heads (II., p. 93). 

2 " Street kings. This reminds me much of the lyalode in Yoruda towns, commonly called 
head market women, but, perhaps, more correctly translated by the words * Mother of Streets.' 
(Ode = outside of a house or town)." C.P. 

Govevnment. 93 

limited.^ In the year 1786 the French were anxious to have a fort built at Gwato, 
but the reply of the king was to the effect that he must consult his Council about it. 
This is in fact the first mention of the Benin Council. Landolphe writes : " The 
council consisted of sixty ' big men,' who wore round the neck, on the wrists and on 
the ankles their double strings of coral (II., p. 95). Four fiadors conducted us to the 
council chamber, which was at least sixty feet long, and at the other end we saw the 
king in an arm-chair raised three steps up. He was dressed in a very fine white 
pagne ; two negroes, about twenty years of age, and quite naked, stood at his side, 
carrying a damas in the right hand, point upwards. Sixty old men about 
seventy years of age, known as the ' big men,' dressed in superb pagnes 
surrounded their master. Every one of them wore on his neck, ankles and wrists 
two rows of very large coral, which is the distinctive mark of the highest office of 
the state. The fiadors and passadors are only allowed to wear a single row on any 
part of their body, or rather a necklace, and they must besides have the king's 
authority to do so, as the dignity is not hereditary.^ The above number of old men 
is divided into three sections ; twenty of ihem have charge of the receipts and 
expenses, and are called the council of the finance minister ; twenty others make up 
the council of the minister for war, and occupy themselves with all that concerns 
peace and war; and the last twenty have the control of trade" (I., p. 113). The 
functions of these councillors appear to be analogous to those of the street-lords, above 
described by Nyendael. 

Landolphe gives a different version from those of Dapper and Nyendael of the duties 
of the state functionaries. He says there are three classes^ of nobility in Benin. ** These 
classes consist of the big men, the fiadovs, and the third class, the passadors, of which 
at O where there are none. The big men may not leave the capital, and the fiadors 
the kingdom, under pain of death. The passadors never leave the kingdom except 
with special instructions ; they carry the messages which the king sends anywhere ; 
they promulgate the bye-laws and regulations of the police [sic] ; they carry royal 
messages to foreign nations and receive the ambassadors who come to Benin ; they 
proclaim the declarations of war and treaties of peace" (II., p. 61). On the other 
hand, Beauvais, the contemporary of Landolphe, says there are four degrees of 
nobility, called fiadors, decorated with a coral necklace of one or more branches 
[strings] (p. 144), but he gives no particulars of their respective functions. 

1 In this respect the king was probably much in the same position of puppet as has been found 
to be the case elsewhere in West Africa. For instance, a former resident in Onitsha writes me : 
" The King of Onitsha is a nonenity in so far as power is concerned, as the chiefs are the real rulers. 
There are three grades of chiefs, with many chiefs in each grade, who all help in the government, 
Chieftainship is not hereditary in any way ; anyone who can afford the cost can become a chief, 
taking one step at a time. Each grade is gained by purchase; a large feast is held by the chiefs, 
and a sum of money, or perhaps more correctly speaking the goods in kind, being the novices or 
stagers payment, is divided amongst the company. There appears to be no indication of secret 
societyship about the grades. The Government occupies itself with trials, war palavers, land 
palavers, etc." In i88g. Sir Claude Macdonald found that the Onitsha King was only in name a 
ruler, that several of his subordinate chiefs were not on speaking terms with him, and that his 
smallest actions were dependent on the will of his people." (Mockler-Ferryman, p. 24). 

^ See Burial, p. 42. 

^ At Warri there were only two classes of nobility. " The fiadors of O where when authorised 
to do so by the king, have the right to cross the limits of the empire [sicj ; they also fulfil the same 
functions as the passadors of Benin " (Landolphe II., p. 61). 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovyovs. 

From Mr. C. Punch I have received the following notes on the individuals who 
helped to misgovern the country : 

" Besides the governors ^vho were put over the white man's trade there were the 
king's boys, Ukoha. These were probably the fighting class of the Dutch chronicler. 
They were unclothed save for a brass anklet and a necklace of agate, until such time 
as the king gave them a wife and allowed them to wear a cloth. Though called 
boys, many were men over forty. They terrorised the country. Some were confined 

to the king's compounds in Benin itself. Others 
were allowed to go about the country on so-called 
king's messages. They arrived at a village, and 
called the head man or men and said ' Eguatuwo,' 
which meant the 'king sends you his compli- 
ments,' but it was a form which was a terror to the 
villagers. Anyone known to be well-to-do was 
called, and reminded of some trouble which had 
arisen in the past between some of his forbears, and 
one of the king's predecessors. He was told that 
the king wished to see him in Benin about it. 
After much begging and many presents, the Ukoba 
would consent to go back to Benin and intercede. 
Another favourite way of extorting money was for 
a king's boy to take a sickly goat or sheep to 
a village, and tell the head man that the king 
asked him kindly to take care of the goat. If the 
head man did so the animal probably died, and then 
of course its death was an excellent ' palaver ' to hold 
over that village in pevpetuo. The Ukoba were 
If it was decided to get rid of a person in Benin, he 
was asked to attend the king's reception, and when the man attended, the king picked 
a quarrel with him and left the place with an angry word, whereupon the Ukoba fell 
on the victim and slaughtered him before he left the place. As a rule, people so 
summoned ran away to the bush villages, and got one of the Benin nobles to inter- 
cede tor them. 

"The population of Benin town consisted mostly of nobles of whom there were 
herds. ^ They were known by their titles, not by their names. 

" The OUubusheri was very high in rank. I did not see the holder of the office, 
and was told at the time that he was a boy and had not assumed his title ; but I was 
misinformed, as later events proved there was an OUubusheri. He was chief of the 
fighting men — what the Dutch and French spoke of as the War Captain. 

" The Ojomo came next to the king, and was perhaps, in a sense equal, for he was 
in one sense an independent king, and lived at his own town. He was allowed to carry 
an umbrella. On one occasion I left the town in a rage, and it was Ojomo who ran 
after me and begged me to go back, lest there should be a regular massacre among 
the obstructive party. He put up his umbrella to show what a very big man he 
was, but I noticed he put it down again before we got near the king's compounds. 

*' There were many others, though I cannot remember all of them, but the following 
were some of the titles : Obaradesagmo, of the royal line ; Obamoe, Aboynagbo, 
Obaseke — in fact most of the titles began with Oba — King. 

1 Dapper, it will be remembered, spoke of the large number of nobles. 

Fig. 95. — Bronze Plaque, British 
Museum. The two outside figures 
represent the Ukoba or King's boys. 

also the kine:'s executioners 

Government. 95 

*' The Okerison was the official who killed the human beings at the big cere- 
monies, and the Okerison imala, i.e., he who kills the animals. Orukatu, was the 
king's brother, and an elder one at that by a few hours. As to the Arribo and the 
Ewagwe, in old days they were stationed at Guatun to carry the news when a 
European arrived. Ewagwe was premier, but on one occasion the Arribo by a trick 
outran the Ewagwe, and had the privilege given him of always being the one to 
receive a European stranger, and naturally expected to get first feathers" (C. Punch). 

Nyendael relates that on one day in the year the king makes a parade through the 
city, when "he grants many appointments to the government of towns and villages." 
He relates that the honourable posts were given to the officials on the recommendation 
of the three great lords; and the king as "a sign of this honour presents each of them with 
a string of coral, that being equivalent to the arms of an order of knighthood. This 
string they are obliged to wear about their necks, without ever daring to put it off on 
any account whatever ; for if they are so unhappy as to lose it, or carelessly suffer it 
to be stolen, they are ipso facto irretrievably condemned to die. For the confirmation 
of which, I can give you two instances, to one of which I was wdtness, viz : a negro 
who through inadvertency had suffered this chain to be stolen from him, and was 
executed without delay ; as was also the other negro who acknowledged himself 
guilty of the said theft, besides three more who were privy to it, and did not inform 
about it. Thus five men were put to death for a chain of coral, that was intrinsically 
not worth twopence. The second instance happened about the year 1700, and was 
somewhat more extraordinary. At that time there lay near me, off the village of 
Boededoe, two Portuguese ships or barques, one of which departed before us ; but the 
other was obliged to stay a month or two after me, in order to collect her debts ; 
which coming in very slowly the captain resolved to cause a fiador, who was his 
greatest debtor, to be arrested in his ship ; but when this was attempted, the debtor 
resisted and endeavoured to escape ; but during the scuffle with the sailors, the pilot 
caught hold of his chain of coral, broke it in pieces, and threw it overboard, which so 
dispirited the fiador, that he let go his hold, and surrendered himself immediately. 
But some time after, finding the pilot asleep, and having gotten a blunderbuss, he 
shot him through the head, and thus obliged him to exchange his natural for a more 
lasting sleep ; with this the negro was not yet satisfied, but afterw^ards wounded the dead 
body in several places, and then threw away his knife, adding that he had now taken 
his revenge, and that it was perfectly indifferent to him what they did with him. 
' For,' continues he, ' when my coral was thrown overboard, I was a dead man, and at 
present I am in the same condition.' The Portuguese did not venture to punish him, 
but delivered him to the governor of the place, w'ho dispatched him to the king, and 
the barque departing, his majesty committed him to close prison in order to punish 
him very severely in the presence of the next Portuguese who should come thither. 
This very year I saw the negro, and just upon my departure, two Portugues ships 
came with orders to demand justice for their murdered pilot. How they succeeded 
I cannot say, because I left that place immediately after ; but that it cost the negro 
his life is undeniable. The king keeps these corals in his own possession ; and the 
counterfeiting, or possessing them without his grant is punished with death. Besides 
the fiadors, under the same rank are also reckoned the mercadors or merchants; 
fuUadors or intercessors ; the veilles or elders ; all of them are distinguished by the 
above mentioned mark of honour, viz : the wearing of coral." 

According to Lieut. King, " A coral necklace is the distinctive mark of royalty 
and nobility, and when the king confers a patent of nobility on anyone, he puts the 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

necklace on him with his own hands." On one occasion Fawckner noticed a 
messenger approaching him and "performing the most extraordinary gesticulations. 
At first I thought him mad, for he danced and capered through the street, followed 
by a great many persons who seemed to partake in the same feeling of joy or mad- 
ness. He exhibited first one leg and then the other alternately, extended his hands, 
and then pointed to a string of coral which encircled his ankles and wrists. The fact 
was, the king had made a * gentleman ' of him, having bestowed an honour similar to 
our knighthood, and placed the insignia of his order, the coral, round his legs and 
arms. He was anxious that everybody should see it, and displayed all the vanity 
and pride of a child when he is first breeched " (p. 89). Truly coral played an im- 
portant part at the Court of Benin, and we cannot wonder that in time it got a juju 
of its own. 

"The king has a very good income, for his territories 
are very large and full of governors, and each one knows 
how many bags of boesjes [cowries] , the money of 
this country, he must raise annually for the king, which 
amount to a vast sum, which it is impossible for me to 
estimate. Others, of a lower rank than the former, instead 
of money, deliver to the king cattle, sheep, fowls, yams 
and cloths, in short, whatever he wants for his house- 
keeping ; so that he is not put to one farthing expense on 
that account, and consequently he lays up his whole 
pecuniary revenue untouched. Duties or tolls on imported 
and exported wares are not paid here; but everyone pays 
a certain sum annually to the governor of the place where 
he lives, for the liberty of trading ; he sends part of it to 
the king, hence the king can estimate what he has to 
expect annually without much variation " (Nyendael). 
From the same authority we learn that fines exacted as 
punishment never reach the king. 
Gallwey also tells us, "When an elephant is killed, the king claims one tusk, 
the other going to the hunter ; but the king has the option of buying it if he wishes 
to (p. 128). 

The taxes levied on European merchants mentioned by Nyendael {see Trade), and 
the gifts of captains of vessels and other visitors as mentioned by Adams, would help 
to swell the king's revenues.^ 

" The quickness with which news was conveyed to the king was startling. The 
natives of course said it was his magic, but I fancy they must have had some system 
of stages of runners who passed on news which it was thought likely would interest 
the king. Although difficult of access to those seeking audience on their own 
account, anyone at all who had news went direct to the king and asked leave to 
tell him. If pleased the king would reward him, but he also risked incurring 
punishment, even death, if the king did not think his news worth having. In 
this way every inducement was given to get news to Benin. I thought it was 
done to establish the king's reputation for omniscience." (C. Punch). 

Fig. 96. — The King's 
Mark. From rubbing, 
off a tusk in the posses- 
sion of Dr. F. N. Roth. 
Height over all ijin. 
(32 cm.) Anyone in 
possession of a tusk with 
the King's mark on was 
liable to be run in. 

■* The King of Onitsha lives by the fees obtained in adjudicating upon disputes, also upon the 
yam offerings made to him once a year, and the offerings of fishes made him at various times. On 
certain days he has the power of seizing goods on certain roads from passers-by. 


Husband claims all — On death of husband king claims all — Eldest son made heir — Disposal of 
the wives — Slaves presented to king and lords as heriots — Allowance to younger brother and 
mother— Some wives taken, others set to work — Some become courtezans — If no issue in- 
heritance goes to brothers — Failing all heirs the king inherits — Inheritance of the crown (g8) — 
Choice of crown-prince kept secret — Curious method of proclaiming crown -prince — Destinction 
of king's brother — Landolphe's version of election of crown-prince (gg) — Eldest son rarely chosen 
— Elected prince visits king once a year — Not allowed to stay in the city — Lieut. King states 
eldest son always chosen (loo) — Choice hidden from him — Roupell's officials confirm Lieut. 
King — Son trained up as king, but not allowed to remain in city — How Jambra came to the 
throne — How Overami the last king came to the throne — Curious that eldest son chosen as 
king (loi) — The king's understudy — Sacrifices — The pits (102) — A new compound for the dead 

"As to inheritances, they follow this rule. The husband takes all the property 
which his wife has left, for himself, without leaving to the children anything but 
what iheir mother has given them during her lifetime. While the wife, on the 
contrary, when her husband dies, is not allowed to touch anything of his goods ; all 
these, as well as slaves and other possessions, go over into the king's hands. And, 
if there are sons, the king often makes the eldest heir of all his father's slaves and 
goods, also sometimes of virgin wives, the others being given in marriage to other 
men " (Dapper). 

Nyendael tells us the same, with a little more detail, thus: "The right of 
inheritance devolves in the following manner. When any person of condition dies, 
the eldest son is sole heir, but is obliged to present a slave by way of heriot to the 
king, and another to the three great lords, with a petition that he may succeed to his 
father in the same position, which the king accordingly grants, and he is declared the 
lawful heir of all his father has left. He bestows no more on his younger brothers 
than what out of his bounty he pleases ; but if his mother be alive, he allows her a 
creditable maintenance proportionate to her condition, and allows her besides to keep 
whatever she has gotten from his father. His father's other widows, especially those 
who have not had any children, the son takes home if he likes them, and uses as his 
own ; but those whom he does not like, he also takes them home with their children 
and sets them to work, in order to support them the more creditably ; but entertains 
no matrimonial connection with them. With his connivance they are allowed to 
earn a little money so as honourably to keep themselves. Of this last sort, there 
are as great numbers of accommodating women as in other countries. If the deceased 
leaves no children, the brother inherits his effects, and in case of absence of such 
heir, the next of kin inherits. But if no lawful heir can be found, the king inherits."^ 

1 If Dapper and Nyendael are correct, there was an absolute break in the customs of inheritance 
from any of the Yoruba tribes among whom inheritance is as follows: — Property is of three kinds 
(i) the dwelling house, (2) the farm land, (3) personal property such as money (cowries), goods and 

gS Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

The inheritance to the crown evidently followed similar lines. Dapper says : 
" The crown is inherited by the sons, and if there are no sons, by the brothers. 
\\'hen the king is in extremis and leaves sons, as is usually the case, on account 
of the many wives, he orders one of his noblemen, called Onegwa, to be sent for, to 
whom he divulges the name of the heir to the crown ; this nobleman not being 
allowed to reveal it to anyone else, till the king has been dead for a considerable 
space of time.^ But immediately after the king's death, this nobleman assumes the 
superintendence of the king's possessions, and the deceased king's children then 
come and kneel down before him and salute him ; although nobody knows as yet 
who will inherit the crown. Everybody then oft'ers this Onegwa many goods and 
valuables, in order to compete for the royal dignity ; although the Onegwa is not 
allowed to tell anybody the secret. Then, when the proper time has arrived, he 
orders the Owe-Asserry or Seasayre, being the field-marshall,^ the nearest to the 
king, to be called. He, on arrival, asks the Onegwa what he has to say, whereupon 
the Onegwa tells him who has been appointed successor to the crown by the deceased 
king. Then the Owe-Asserry or Seasayre asks four or five times, w^hether the late 
king has ordained it so, which the Onegwa acknowledges by saying 'yes.' There- 
upon the Seasayre goes home without saying a word. When this is done, the 
Onegwa orders the son appointed successor by his father to be called again, and 
then tells him to go to the Seasayre immediately, and offer him many goods, that 
he may quickly appoint the new king, whereupon the future king is ordered to go 
home. After five or six days the Seasayre betakes himself to the court again, and 
then calls the nobleman or Onegwa, whom he questions again, whether the king has 
said so. If he then answers this question with 'yes,' twdce and three times, then the 
appointed heir to the crown is called, and ordered to kneel down, while the supreme 
power over the kingdom is explicitly conferred upon him ; whereupon, he thanks 
them, then gets up, is dressed in the royal attire, and sits down again. Then all 
the vassals, from the Seasayre down to the lowest in rank, come to kneel down 
before the king and salute him. As soon as this solemnity is ended the king has to 
go to another village, called Osebu, to keep his court there, as his time for reigning 
in Benin has not yet come, when theie is some sacrifice of men, or cattle, or horses, 
or cows, or anything else to the devil, in the honour of his deceased father ; then he 
is smeared with the blood of the slaughtered cattle. When now the above-mentioned 
Seasayre thinks it fit time, and the king has been sufficiently taught the lessons of 
his forefathers, he is called by the said Seasayre to Benin, where he lives henceforth 
and keeps his court, ruling at will. The king, when in power, at once tries to do 
away with his brothers, in order to govern the more securely by not having com- 

slaves. The dwelling house is family property and cannot be alienated, and all members of the 
family and their descendants have the right of entry and the use of the family house. Farm land 
is divided among the children the eldest taking the largest share, and in the event of the other 
members being young the eldest holds their share in trust working it for them. Personal property 
descends not to the children but to brothers or sisters, and brothers and sisters by the same mother 
inherit before those by the same father. Brother or sister so inheriting would have to provide for 
children if the latter were unable to provide for themselves, and would owe the children a share." 

2 In Dahomey the prime minister and his next in rank decide which of the king's sons is to 
succeed, generally the first born after the king's succession is chosen. 

•^ Captain of War. " This is the same as the modern title Yaceri, whom I often heard called 
Saseri," C.P. 

Inhevitance. 99 

petitors for the crown ; or he usually lets them live no longer than twenty or 
twenty-five years, for fear of plots with the friends of some killed or banished 
fiadors or state counsellors, as happened a few years ago, when the now ruling 
king had his brother strangled by ordering his people to hold a cloth over his mouth 
and nose, because he had tried to poison the king during his illness, with the assistance 
of some noblemen. He then, in the presence of them all, called all his brother's 
partisans, and told them he would order them to be killed, and then immediately 
proceeded to do so ; they were all beheaded. Some say that the king compels his 
brothers to hang themselves, as nobody is allowed to touch royal blood with the 
intention to kill, but orders them to be buried with great honour and pomp." 

Landolphc gives a different account of the election of a king. " As the monarch 
of the two empires, i.e., Benin and Warri, advances in years, he is obliged to cause 
one of his children to be nominated sovereign at his death, as without this formality 
the crown might fall by election to someone not a member of his family.^ He calls 
together all the big men, fiadors and passadors of the kingdom, who on a certain day 
of the month [joiiv de liine] , have to assemble in one of the courts of the palace 
capable of holding 6000 men, and from which, on that day, the women are excluded. 
The king calls in his male children not less than twenty years old, and presenting 
them says : ' Here are my sons, choose from amongst them that one who is best 
qualified for the throne, so that after my death you may find in him the security for 
peace and the virtues of a good father, as well as the courage of a warrior when it is 
necessary to fight.' The choice rarely falls on the eldest son. Whoever is recog- 
nised as the heir to the throne takes at once the title of king of a province. The 
assembly rises, salutes him and addresses him through a chief, and he is led to his 
father who dubs him a knight. Then he goes to his province, which he may only 
leave once a year on the day of his election, in order to pay homage to the author of 
his being. I was once present at the arrival of the young king under the above cir- 
cumstances. His name was Chiffau ; he was good looking, five feet two inches high. 
He was escorted by about a thousand to twelve hundred men armed with assegais, 
and thirty young men, some in white cloths and others in red cloths, marched in 
front of him, dancing and beating time with tambourines. Having entered the court 
where the remains of his ancestors reposed, the king, his father, advanced towards 
him. The king's loins were covered with some magnificent cloths, and his neck, 
arms and ankles, w^ere covered by a quantity of large strings of coral. On this 
occasion he wore a net shirt, of which each knot was furnished with a coral bead ; it 
weighed more than twenty pounds, for the king made me test it. Having sat him- 
self at the foot of the tomb of the late monarch, where we could see at least sixty 
elephant tusks, he called his son, kissed him, and both shed tears on each other 
before the assembly, which seemed to partake of their emotion. At the end of this 
ceremony the young king returned to his province accompanied by his armed suite. 
Being astonished that he did not go into the palace, I asked the reason why of the 
fiador Oyfou, one of the first confidants of the old king, who said : ' The big men 
never allow a king's son, heir to the throne, to speak to his father, for fear lest the 
latter might suggest feelings of hatred or vengeance against his own enemies, or that 
the son might be advised to change our customs, which we endeavour to keep free 
from all innovation since the origin of the dynasty" (H., pp. 58-60). 

1 Elsewhere Landolphe states that at Warri " the eldest son of the sister of the king succeeds on 
the death of the king, if the king has no children." (II., p. 6). 

loo Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvors. 

On the ether hand, we are told by Lieut. King that " The eldest son of the King 
of Benin is looked upon as the heir to the throne. From his infancy he is sent to a 
town some distance off, in order to be initiated into the art of governing, and into the 
mysteries of religion by experienced old men, without the secret of his high birth 
being made known to him, which he does not learn until he is called to sovereign 
power by the death of his father, or until he has arrived at an age when he is no 
longer in need of instruction." The account given by Roupell's officials confirms 
Lieut. King's statement, viz. : " The eldest son always succeeded to the throne. 
When the heir was born a big play was held, then the king came out and showed 
his son to all men, then he was trained up to be king. The eldest son was never 
allowed inside the city till his father's death ; he resided at Shelu, but sometimes he 
could come and pay his father a visit." 

The manner in which Jambra came to the throne is recorded by Burton as 
follows : " Jambra is the second son of Oddi, or Odalla, the king of Benin in 
Belzoni's time, who was described by ^Messrs. Moffat & Smith as a robust old man, 
w^ho affected much dignity, and would not allow them to approach near his person. 
His elder brother is Bawaku, whose birth not having been reported in due time by 
his mother, the cadet became, according to the law of the land, the senior.- When 
the old king died there was of course a fight. The chiefs and ministers preferred the 
milder and more easily managed man. Jambra therefore changed his name to 
Atolo. seized his father's property, and became Obba. Bawaku, whose temper is 
despotic, resisted for a time, but w^as presently expelled the country. He then fled 
towards the Niger and settled at Isan, a city said to be seven days' march from 
Benin and three from Igarra. Since 1854 the brothers have been constantly at war. 
]\Iany of the Benin people, it is said, are now flying to the Pretender, who, if the 
ministers did not fear for their heads, would soon make himself Obba" (pp. 413-15). 

Somewhat curiously similar to the occurrences related above by Burton, is the 
account of the coming to the throne of Overami, given me by ]\Ir. C. Punch : " Two 
of the wives of Adola were enceinte at the same time, and were given in charge of 
nobles to be kept in villages till the children were born, and the nobles had to make 
all speed to inform the king on the child being born. Orukotu was born first but his 
guardian was slow in notifying the fact. Odobowa [the lately deposed king] \\as 
born later, l)ut his guardian announced him first to King Adola, who recognised him 
as his heir. This was Benin law. I was told in Benin that a similar instance led to 
the foundation of Warri. The younger was first declared king. The elder when he 
grew up, though the brothers were friends, saw that they could not live in the same 
place, so emigrated to Warri, and established another kingdom.^ 

** Orukotu tried to oust Adubowa and had a large following on Adola's death, but 
Adubowa was proclaimed king and proceeded to perform the rites. Orukotu's party 
made head ; I was told the Ojomo, the Ewagwe and Obaradesagmo were mixed 
up with it. 

" The Ukoba, the chief eunuch who had charge of the king's wives, headed by 
Aguramasi and Agbe, king's boys, stood by Adubowa, and he finally became king 

1 " In England, an annuity office prefers considering the date of christening to the date of birth, 
in Africa the age dates from the day when the king acknowledges the child. Both are equally 
absurd " — R.B. In France also the date of christening was formerly the date to record. 

2 The Warri branch was not tributary. It is curious that though the Jekri chiefs were un- 
doubtedly of Benin origin, and of the royal line, the Jekri people are evidently more Yoruba 
than Benin. 

Inhevitance. loi 

and took the royal title of Uvorami Nabashi. The Ojomo and the Ewagwe were 
objects of suspicion even when I was there, and it is certain that the king was 
especially anxious for European support and countenance, as he knew well the large 
party there was against him. Orukotu would ha\'e been killed but that the king's 
mother begged him off. I was in lienin River when King Adola died, and 
awful stories reached me of the massacres going on in Benin to celebrate his decease, 
but it appeared later from accounts in Benin, that these massacres were not all 
sacrifices to celebrate the king's death, but that in the suppression of the open 
attempt made in favour of Orukotu, great numbers were killed." 

Nyendael does not appear to say anything of regal inheritance, mentioning only 
that the eldest sons of the chiefs inherited. This would, however, show that the 
inheritance by the eldest son was a custom of the country. The War Captain's post 
was inherited by his son (Fawckner p. 8i), but nothing is said about his being the 
eldest. This was the case with Ojomo. He showed Mr. Punch his eldest son, 
Ocome, saying he was to succeed him. Dapper and Landolphe give a contrary view. 
It is usually the custom that a chief or ' big man ' will choose his own heir from 
among his sons, of whom he may have a great number. This son will be chosen for 
his business capacity ; it is therefore the more remarkable that in Benin the eldest 
son is said always to succeed to his father's throne.^ Mr. Punch suggests that the 
title of a noble descended by right to the eldest son, subject to the king's approval, 
and it was in the king's gift. The law of inheritance in property must have been 
largely influenced by the fact that the king claimed every man and woman, even his 
own children, to be his slaves, consequently no one owned any property. The fact 
that the crown descended to the eldest son may have influenced local ideas, but 
primogeniture is not the basis of inheritance in West Africa. 

Mr. C. Punch gives me the following particulars of the ceremonies connected 
with the inheritance of the crown: "On a king's death the event was kept concealed 
by the immediate retainers. There was an understudy to the royal person, but I 
cannot remember the name which was given to the office. During the king's life the 
understudy was a privileged person and enjoyed royal privileges and honour. On the 
king's death the understudy carried on the duties of king until the people in 
authority were ready to proclaim the new king. The old king's death was then 
announced and the understudy disappeared. I fancy I was introduced to Adubowa's 
understudy, but cannot remember very clearly. 

" On the proclamation of the king's death the new king began to do ceremonies, 
which were long and extended for over a year. He was only king elect until e\'ery 
rite was fulfilled. On completion of every rite he ascended a step towards the king's 
throne, and on full completion he sat on the throne ; ' chopped King ' was the pigeon- 
English expression. At each rite there were human sacrifices. I was told that 200 
men, 200 women and 200 various animals were sacrificed, but I cannot say that it 
was so. The new king constructed a large compound in memory of his father with a 
sacrifical altar at one end, and in one corner a pit, called ' iyo,' into which the bodies 
of the victims were thrown. 

" On the occasion of my first visit, Adubowa had almost completed the compound in 
memory of Adola, and in fact the big, carved doors of iroko wood (Chlovophova excelsa) 

1 At Onitsha, the kingship is not hereditary from father to son, but the inheritor must be of the 
royal family, and is chosen by the chiefs of the town ; he may be an uncle, brother, nephew, son, 
&c., &c. 


Great Benin — 7^5 Customs, Art and Hovvovs. 

were co\ered with JNIuntz metal, which I obtained for the king. The pit was empty and 
only just finished. It was about 60 feet deep, and the ladders used in digging it 
were still close to it. There was a story that these pits were dug until a stratum of 
lignite or some pitchy substance was reached, and this was the sign that they were deep 
enough. The diggers then swarmed up the ladders, but the last man was left down 
alive to begin the sacrifice. Looking down the hole we saw no body at the bottom, 
but then we could not really see the bottom. 

"I do not think that the completion of the compound was part of the rites done 
by the king in attaining his throne. It w^as more than a year after Adola's death and 
Adubowa was full king, yet the compound was not finished. Whether this was so or 
not, it was obligatory on the king to ' make his father,' and again there were 
sacrifices, and every year afterw^ards ; a king would also make sacrifices in the 
compounds of other dead kings. I should say the actual number of victims has been 
exaggerated. Probably a large number w^ere sacrificed at the coronation, and at the 
completion of the compound, and perhaps two or three at the annual service." 


Fig. 97, 

Fig. (j8. 

Figs. 97 and 98. 

-Two views of small bronze object. Height 5^ in, (14 cm, 
Bankfield Museum, Halifax. 


All slaves strangers — Male slaves not sold — Slaves exported from Benin are not Binis — Subjects 
sold — People treated as slaves— An honour to be called a king's slave — Slave villages — State 
of slavery before export slave trade — Physically deformed slaves or bad slaves immolated as 
occasion offered —English slave trade at Benin stopped through bad climate (104) — Work of 
women slaves — The unhappy lot of a slave — Value of a slave — Slaves rise to power — Sobo and 
Jekri slaves — Piece of tusk for a slave (105). 

Nyendakl has it that in Benin all male slaves are foreigners, " for the natives 
cannot be sold for slaves, but are all free, and alone bear tlie name of the king's 
slaves. Nor is it allowed to export any male slaves that are sold in this country, for 
they must stay there ; but females may be dealt with at every one's pleasure." Accord- 
ing to Landolphe (I., p. 10 1) all the slaves who are trafficked in Benin and Warri come 
from outside these territories. Lieut. King found that " the king can sell his subjects 
when convicted of crime, or when they have incurred his displeasure." The royal 
right of abuse seems to have survived to the last days, for Gallwey (p. 129) mentions 
that " the Benin people are free, but are treated as slaves by the king, the title of 
king's slave being considered an honour." We have seen above that for different 
reasons the king claimed male children, widows and slaves belonging to deceased 
subjects ; he could hardly get much more, so that the mass of the people were 
practically slaves to the king, and those who were not to the king were so to their 

While travelling many miles in the interior, Lieut. King found settlements 
{villes coloniales) belonging to a single individual, and inhabited by slaves, the pro- 
prietor residing in Warri or some other maritime or commercial town. This confirms 
Dapper's statement that the king gave whole villages, with the people and slaves, to 
some successful jujumen. In Calabar and its neighbourhood, the local kings had 
their slave villages, the inhabitants of which brought their produce to the town for 
sale, or disposed of it otherwise, according to arrangement with the owner, but whether 
this system of slave villages was the same as that which existed in Calabar remains 
yet to be shown. Here, as elsewhere, the peculiar position of the king, in whom was 
centralised all power and ownership, may have modified slave proprietorship in the 
Benin country. 

" Before the slave trade commenced, the king and tlie rich immolated many 
slaves and all prisoners of war, but since they have found a profitable output for 
these in exchange for European goods, they now only sacrifice the maimed, the 
deformed, and those with whom they can do nothing " (Beauvais, p. 145). 

The same traveller remarks at one of the human sacrifices at which he was 
present, that the slaves immolated all had some visible defects which would have 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

caused their rejection by the slave traders (p. 149). This is confirmed by Roupell's 
officials, who say that all the slaves sacrificed were bad men or bad with sickness. 
The export slave trade <^rew to enormous extent, and its decay, at Benin in particular, 
is ascribed to the English by Adams (p. 116), but chiefly to the extreme unhealthi- 
ness of the climate.^ It must not however be supposed that the export slave trade 
mitigated the status of those left behind, for when there were not enough slaves to 
be sacrificed, as we have seen above, anyone who could be caught was sacrificed. 
Slaves were sacrificed to expiate the misdemeanours of the master. (Nyendael). 

As for the women, Nyendael found them in Benin "as much slaves as in any 
place in this kingdom. They are obliged to keep the daily markets, look after their 
housekeeping and children, as well as their kitchens, and till the ground. In short, 
they have so much employment, that they ought not to sit still ; notwithstanding 
which, they dispatch it all very briskly, and with a great deal of pleasure." 

The lot of the slaves was not a happy one. Burton evidently mixes up the 
Jekri canoe slaves, whose lot is a hard one, with the agricultural slave, who had not a 
very bad time of it, when he writes in his forcible and exaggerated way (p. 141) : " they 
must work under the lash from four p.m. to three a.m., upon four ounces of boiled 
yam or plantain. Two such meals will probably be allowed them while pulling one 
hundred miles. They are mere anatomies, they will rifle the pails which the ship's 
pigs refuse, and, remember, this is in times of plenty. More than half-starved, they 
are always the first to make a disturbance when their miserable pittance is curtailed." 
A master would probably be hard on a slave boy, although unkindness to children 
is most unusual in a West African. And at Gwato, he says, (p. 412) "as 
usual, the adults kept all for themselves. The small boy Rapidy, a sla\'e 
to Sawaye, who had attached himself to us, was hardly allowed a morsel, 
his master snatching it from his hands until we taught him better manners. 
These little wretches can never, however, be rewarded ; whatever of dress or diet is 
given to them will at once be appropriated by the proprietor, or he failing, by anyone 
senior and stronger." Gallwey, however, does not seem to think the lot of the slave 
such a bad one. He says : " Among the Jekries, domestic slavery is in existence, 
most of the slaves being bought from the neighbouring Sobo tribe. The value of a 

Fig. 99— From a sketch by Mr. C. Punch to show how the piece of tusk 
was measured to be cut off in exchange for a slave. 

full grown man is about £10. The Jekries are free men and do no work.... Domestic 
slavery as it exists in the Jekri country has many points in its favour. There is 
really very little difference between the lot of a good slave and a freeman, except 
that the former works while the latter does not. They are housed and fed by their 

1 The chmate was apparently as bad 350 years ago as it is now : for Welch tells us, in his first 
voyage, out of 140 men he lost 40. At Gwato, Landolphe saw on one occasion the French, English, 
Dutch and Portuguese vessels lose three-fourths of their crews in six weeks. (I., p. 307). 



masters, and are given positions of trust, and in many cases they rise to be masters 
themselves, as in the case of the late King Ja-Ja of Opobo, who was originally a 

slave The Sobos do not keep slaves, but are bought as such by the Benin euid 

Jekri people " (p. 127). 

" Gallwey must have been misinformed about the price of a Sobo slave, for the 
price of a slave from the Sobos was a span (see Fig. 99) cut off the large end of a 
laro-e tusk of an elpehant, and the piece so cut was tlie common ivory bracelet affected 
by the Sobos" (C. Punch). 

- 1 

Fir,. 100. — Double ROiird quiver, Length 
23jin. (597cm.) British Museum. 



Frr,. looA, — Bronze Statuette of mounted horseman. In the 
possession of Mr. James I^innock, Liverpool. 


Courtiers coming to Court — Side seats — Supported by retinue — Music (io8) — Work of king's slaves 
— Ro3al gifts of food — Abject position of Court visitors (109)— One king speaks Portuguese — 
Dapper's authority never at Court — Nyendael's interview with the king — No direct speech 
with the king (no) — Behaviour of slaves carrying presents for king — I'recaution to secure king 
against poisoning — Landolphe's interview (i 11)— King's retinue — Interpreter falls on his belly 
and holds hand before his mouth — Description of the king — Beauvais on humiliating 
attitude of those who seek audience with the king (112) — Lieut. King's interview — Prostration 
of the king's subjects — Adams' interview (113) — The king short of tobacco — Dress of king and 
courtiers — Fawckner's interview (115) — Moffat and Smith's interview — Remarks on the slave 
trade — Burton's interview (116) — King's retinue " big men " — Description of the king — Etiquette 
difficulties — Belzoni's books (118) — Gallwey's interview— Curious survival of the old etiquette 
(119) — The Queen-Mother — Mr. Punch's interviews — Fanning the chiefs (125) — Ceremonial 
washing of feet, 

After speaking of the king's dwelling, D.R. continues: "The king has also 
many courtiers who, when they come to court, all ride upon horses, and sit upon 
horses as women and girls do with us, and they have one on each side a man running, 
on whom they lean,' and according to the greatness of their estate, so do they have 

Fig ioi. Plaque representing 
a nobleman, gentleman or chief 
riding and supported by two atten- 
dants; a boy leading the horse. 
British Museum. 

Fig. 102. I'iaque representing a 
noble or chief with attendants 
holding their shields or rather fans 
over his head to protect him from 
the sun, as described by D.R. 

many men following. Some of these carry great shields or umbrellas wherewith they 
keep their squire or nobleman from the sun (fig. 102). Tlie latter walk nearest to him 

1 At a Malay reception at Kuching, Borneo, the Rani of Sarawak and Miss North were thus con- 
ducted by their elbows (Marianne North, Recollections, Lond., 1892, L, p. 241). 


Grhat Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horvovs. 

excepting those on whom the rider leans, who are closest, the rest come after him, 
playing some on drums, others blowing horns and whistles, some have a hollow iron 
whereon they strike (Fig. io8). The horse, also, is led by a man, and so the squire rides 
playing to court. Those who are very great and important lords have another kind of 
music when they ride to court ; for their men have special instruments like the game 
bags with which men in our country go to fish market ; this net is filled with various 



Fig. 103. The rattle mentioned by U.R. From 
a sketch by Mr. C. Punch. " This was an ordinary 
round calabash with a loose net over it, and at each 
knot was a small seed or cowrie. The instrument 
was held and shaken in both hands and made a 
crisp sound, which would be pleasing to savages 
and children " C.P. 

Fig. 104. Court Fan, from 
a sketch by Mr. C. Punch. 

things, and when they strike upon it with their hands it rattles just as if a heap of 
walnuts were inside and were struck with the hands (Fig. 103). A very grand nobleman 
has many of these instruments, and his servants run after him making a great rattling 
as he rides to court." Later on D.R. repeats himself somewhat when he says : " The 
noblemen go with great reverence and respect to court, and are accompanied by 
many negroes or common moors, one with a drum, another with another instrument 
on which they play. When they go on horseback they place a little wooden stool on 
the horse, and on its neck they hang a bell, which rings when the horse goes ; there 
must always be two negroes walking one on either side, on whom the nobleman leans, 
and these negroes and moors attend at the noblemen's doors every morning and stay 
there till they come out for them to lean on them." Of the king himself, we are told, 
" he owns many men and women, that is slaves, and one often sees the women slaves 
carrying water, yams and palm oil, which they say is for the king's wives. One also 
sees many men slaves carrying water, yams and palm oil, which they say is for the 
king, and many are seen carrying grass, which is for the horses, and all that which is 
mentioned is carried on their heads. Tiie king occasionally sends out presents of 
foods, as a special honour from his court, which are carried in grand order through 
the streets, for the carriers all march in single file, and by tlicir side there are always 

Court Life and Etiquette. 


some persons who carry wliite wands, so that the people should make way for the 
carriers, for every man must give way and step aside however stately or eminent a 
squire or noble he may be." 

Apart from the bare references to royal interviews, Windam is the first 
European to give us any account of a visit to the king. He says : " When his 
noblemen are in his presence, they never look him in the face, but sit cowering, as 
we upon our knees, so they upon their buttocks with their elbows upon 
their knees, and their hands before their faces, not looking u]) until the king 
command them. And when they are coming toward the king, as far as they doe see 
him, they do shew such reverence, sitting on the ground with their faces covered as 
before. Likewise when they depart from him, they turn not their backs toward him, 
but goe creeping backward with like reverence. And now to speak somewhat of the 

Fig. 105. Bronze group apparent!}- 
representing'some ceremon\'. Compare 
the mitred men with the individual in 
fig. 134, and note Nyendael's remarks 
regarding the "shields" (fig. 134). 

Fig. T07 Plaque representing a seated 
figure of a chief with kneeling attend- 
ants. British Museum. 

Fig. 106. Portionof relief of base of fig- 105 
with alternate inverted heads. 

communication that was between the king and our men, you shall first understand 
that he himselfe could speake the Portugall tongue, which he had learned of a child. 
Therefore after he had commanded our men to stand up, and demanded of them the 
cause of their coming into that country, they answered by Pinteado that they were 
merchants, etc., etc." Dapper, although he goes very fully into other details, does 
not say anything about the court, which he would probably have done had his 
authority mentioned it, and it may possibly be due to this circumstance that Bosnian 
ridicules Dapper. The ne.xt account is from Nyendael's pen : " In the fnst apart- 
ment, at the entrance of the plain, is the king's audience-chamber, where, in presence 
of his three great lords, I saw and spoke with him. He was sitting on an ivory 
couch, under a canopy of Indian silk. He was a person of an affable mien, about 
forty years old. I stood, according to custom, about thirty paces distant from him ; 
but desired, in order to observe him the better, that I might approach nearer to him ; 
which, though unusual, he smilingly granted ; and after he had beckoned me, I 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

advanced to within eight or ten paces of him. There was no person in the hall 
besides the three mentioned great lords, the king, and a negro with a drawn sword in 
his hand, who looked as fierce as a cabin boy. Whatever any person would say to 
the king, must be first told to these three, who then repeat it to him and bring his 
answer ; going thus to and from him without any persons being able to determine 
whether they faithfully report the messages on either side. On the king's left hand, 
against a fine tapestry, 1 saw seven white scowered elephants' teeth on pedestals of 

Fig. io8. Bronze Plaque. The boy on the left being furnished 
with an Ebere, points to the representation as that of some court 
ceremony or feast. Height isfin. (40 cm.) Liverpool Museum. 

ivory, which is the manner that almost all the king's gods are placed within his 
house. I presented the king with a silk night-gown, with which, as I was afterwards 
told, he was highly pleased ; but whilst I was with him, I saw no signs of his satis- 
faction, because it was brought to him covered, and he did not see what it was till 
after my departure ; for everything brought to the king is in like manner covered 
with mats ; and before and behind these presents several negroes march, provided 
with white staves. All those who happen to meet them in this posture, immediately 
make haste out of the way, otherwise, they would be very well beaten. This 
precaution is taken to prevent all opportunity of poisoning the king's goods, or 
killing him." This was in 1702. " It was the rule to cover up the presents for the 
king, as he objected to the nobles knowing if he received anything. The white 
staves of Nyendael are the peeled wand already mentioned " (C. Punch). 

Court Life and Etiquette. iii 

After a long interval, we get some fresh information about court receptions from 
Landolphe, whose first interview with the then King of Benin in 1789, took place at 
1 1 p.m. He was accompanied by an interpreter called Cupid, and introduced by two 
passadors and escorted by twenty-four blacks armed with assegais and carrying each 
a lamp with four wicks. They " passed through many spacious courts, in one of 
which were the tombs of the Kings of Benin, but which I was not allowed to 
examine. Leaving this I was introduced into a large apartment where an armchair 
had been placed for me, and I was left alone with the passadors. I had to wait nearly 
half-an-hour for the monarch. He came accompanied by two blacks quite naked, 
about twenty years old, and armed with a damas [? the Ada or cutlass]. They ordered 
the passadors to retire. The king, who was wrapped in rich white Indian muslins, 
told Cupid to tell me to approach, and also told him to interpret properly all I had to 

Fig. log. Fig. iio. 

Figs. 108 & 109. — Small brass objects from Ashanti, 
so-called "gold weights," probably itinerant story- 
tellers' aids to memory or story emblems. Fig. 109 
represents a double bell form, and fig. no a man strik- 
ing the object. Compare this with Fig, 120. In the 
possession of Capt, C. H. Armitage, D.S.O. 

say. Cupid therefore threw himself flat on his belly at the feet of his master 
[i.e., the king], raising his head a little to look at him, and placing his hand hori- 
zontally a little above his mouth just as though he feared his breath might reach the 
royal face." Having explained the object of Landolphe's visit, viz., to establish a 
factory, and making a reference to the English, of whom the king is reported to have 
said they were wicked people, and giving the king his gifts, the king said he must 
refer the question to his council. On seeing some of his presents, the king said '* the 
whites are gods for cleverness and work." Landolphe thus describes the king : " He 
had a beautiful frank face, and although about sixty-six years of age, there was not a 
furrow to be seen on it. He was about five foot five inches high, straight and 
dignified. His eyes were bright and he spoke vigorously ; his hair, which was grow- 
ing grey, was worn Grecian fashion. He wore round his waist fine beautifully white 
stuffs down to his knees, put on in a very elegant manner. He wore no shirt. In 
fact, his dress was the usual one for men and women on the West Coast" (I., pp. 
103-109). From Beauvais we get the following about the king: "Every individual 
considers himself an absolute slave of the king. The Binis and even the blacks of 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvovs. 

the neighbouring populations, speak to him only in the most humiliating attitude, 
that is, on their knees, their eyes fixed on the ground, and their hand covering the 







»— ( 






























































1 1 



























mouth for fear lest their breath might reach him. Europeans, however, like other 
native princes are allowed to speak to him standing, but nuist do so through an inter- 
preter, who has to demean himself as just mentioned." 

Lieut. King's account of a. visit to the king runs : " Wlien the king entered the 
audience hall, he was dressed in cloth according to the custom of the country, and 

Court Life and Etiquette. 


wore a big round hat festooned with gold ; one of his arms was extended horizontally, 
being supported by one of his high state officials ; the nail of one of his fingers on 
each hand was immensely long, in order to show that his high position placed him 
above the necessity of working. He gave his hand to Lieut. King and motioned him 
to a seat. From time to time he sat on the royal stool. All his subjects prostrate 
themselves before the king, touching the ground with the forehead." 

Adams on his arrival at Gwato, found that it was the practice " for masters of 
vessels to pay the king a visit soon after their arrival, and such a ceremony is seldom 
allowed to be dispensed with, as on these occasions the black monarch receives a 
handsome present, consisting of a piece of silk damask, a few yards of scarlet cloth, 

Figs. 113 & 114. Applique work ornaments on the brass stool (p. 112). 

Figs, 111-114. Whether these were royal stools or not we cannot 
say, but the royal stool on which the king sat when he granted an inter- 
view to Lieut King, was made of copper, about iSins high. The Lieut, 
tells us that "every king on his accession to the throne has a new stool 
which is placed on his tomb. The shape of the stool varies according to 
the taste of the monarch. One of those which Mr. King saw on the tomb 
of a king was supported by copper serpents, of which the heads touched the 
ground forming the feet . ' ' Mr. Cyril Punch remembers very well seeing these 
articles. They were lying about in one of the compounds, and he writes 
me " one could not help being struck with their similarity to the Delphic 
Tripod in the Hippodrome of Constantinople. Probably this is only a 
coincidence. I do not put much importance on their having once been 
used as a stool. I tried hard to get from Aguramassi what they were 
made for, but he wonld only laugh and say they were there for play." 

and some strings of coral " (p. iii). He therefore went to Benin, and thus describes 
his interview : " The day following my arrival, I had the honour of an interview with 
him ; he received me with much politeness, particularly after the fine flashy piece of 
red silk damask, which I had brought with me as a present for him, had been un- 
folded. The conversation was carried on with the aid of the king's trader, who 
resides at Gatto, and who had accompanied me from thence to act as my linguist. 
Trade was the principal, indeed the only subject discussed ; for King Bovvarre, 
although he is both a god and a king, trades, nevertheless, in slaves and ivory. The 
Benin people, like those of Ardrah and Lagos, are great consumers of Brazil tobacco, 
not any vessels loaded with which had for some time arrived from the Brazils. This 
was a subject of much conversation, and of deep regret on the part of the king. The 










c , _ 











































































































Couvt Life and Etiquette. 115 

audience lasted about one hour ; he then presented nie with two or three country 
cloths, and a small piece of ivory, when J made my bow and took my leave of him. 
The king and his principal courtiers are ostentatious in their dress, wearing damask, 
taffity, and cuttanee, after the country fashion. Coral is a very favourite ornament 
in the royal seragho, which is always well filled ; and the women, like those of the 
Heebo [Ibo] nation, wear a profusion of beads, if they can by any means obtain 

The next record is that of Captain Fawckner, not many years later. His account 
is very nearly as meagre as that of the two Englishmen who preceded him. " On 
entering the apartment I perceived his majesty ; a fine, stout, handsome man, with 
something of kingly dignity about him. He was clothed in a long robe, and wore a 
large hat ornamented with gold lace. Several chiefs, in full dress, surrounded him, 
besides a body guard on either side, with drawn swords. On my approaching him, 
he held out his arm, which three young princes stepped forward and supported." 

(p. 87)- 

Fig. 117. Wooden Box for holding kola nuts when sent round by a chief. 9|in, long x 3 Jin. 
wide (23 cm, x 9 cm.) Liverpool Museum. 

Then follows the short account of Moffat and Smith, in 1838. "It was with 
considerable difficulty, and not till after the expiration of four days — during which 
they were often asked, ' What are you come for ? ', and when they answered, * For 
trade,' ' What goods and presents then do you bring ? ' was immediately added — that 
they obtained an interview with the king. Before being admitted to his presence, 
they were obliged to comply with the custom of washing their hands and feet, and 
partaking of a [Kola] nut, which here, as in other parts of this quarter of Africa, is always 
presented to strangers. The king, who is a robust old man, affected much dignity, 
and would not allow them to approach near his person. His demands for permission 
to open trade at Gatto were at first extremely unreasonable, but he at last agreed to 
moderate terms, and desired to see both of the gentlemen again before their departure 
from the city. It was necessary to spend a whole day in going the round among 
the Phoedoes ; and, this having been done, Mr. Moffat, Mr. Smith having been taken 
ill, again waited on the king, to take leave previous to their departure for Gatto. 
The king put several questions to him about the slave trade, and asked when the 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horvovs. 

king of England was going to settle 'that palaver,' i.e. to allow slave-trading ; and 
when told that ' that palaver ' would never be settled, he burst into a rage, and said 
the king of England was a bad man to steal vessels on the sea, alluding to the 
capture of slavers, and that he would send a letter to him on the subject, as one of 
his people could write English." (Jour. Roy. Geogr. Soc, xi., 1841, pp. igi-2). 



Fig. 118. Bronze ornamental 
Ada probably carried in proces- 
sion in front of a chief. British 

Fig. 119. "The official sword or cutlass 
called Ada in Benin {Daibo in Jekri.) It 
was not held by the king himself, but 
carried in front of the king, the Ahuraku 
and the Ojoma by a naked youth. It was 
held in the right hand with the edge for- 
ward, with left hand supporting the right 
arm under the elbow. What the signifi- 
cance of the regulation posture was, is 
not clear. The Ada was also used by the 
king's executioners." From a sketch by 
Mr. C. Punch. 

Burton's account is as follows: " At the end of a long half-hour, a door to the 
right at the top of the room opened, and in crowded some thirty fellows of stalwart 
proportions and huge forms, entirely exposed. It was a truly savage sight and novel, 
unknown to any of the courts of Yoruba. These men are called the king's cutlass 
boys, and they wear no dress until their master deigns to ' dash ' [present] them a 

Couyt Life and Etiquette. 


cloth. Every male infant in the kingdom is still presented to the king, and belongs 
to him of right ; hence, all the youths in the land are called the king's boys or slaves. 
The naked mob took its place on the right hand of the throne, crowdmg mto the 
corner, and the man nearest the royal seat carried upright in both hands a huge 
handless falchion of native make, fashioned like an exaggeration of the old Turkish 
scimitar. The rest were wholly unarmed, nor did we see a single weapon either in 
the court or in the city. The cutlass boys were followed by half a dozen ' homo- 
grans,' whose numbers gradually 
increased to ten. They ranged 
themselves in line along the raised 
step, perpendicular to the left of 
the throne. All were old men 
with senile figures, offensively thin 
or hideously pot-bellied. They 
were naked to the waist, and wore 
immense white muslin or taffetas 
peshwaz, or petticoats, extending 
to the swell of the leg, and puffed 
out to a balloon shape by kilts 
acting crinoline. Each had his 
anklets and collar of coral, a very 
quaint decoration, composed of 
pieces about one inch long, and so 
tightly strung that it forms a stiff 
circle about a foot in diameter. 
Lastly came the king, supported by 
two men, who led him to the 
wooden bench upon which a mat 
had been placed, disposed his loin- 
cloth, and held both his arms. 
Jambra, whose regal name is 
Atolo, and whose title is Obba, 
or King, is a stout young man, 
about thirty-five years of age. 
His complexion is dark, but his 
aspect is uncommonly intelligent, 
and the expression of his counten- 
ance is mild and good-humoured. 
During this and the subsequent 
audience, he smiled graciouly 
upon his visitors, and our impression was that he is the best looking negro we had 
ever seen. His dress was highly becoming-coral bracelets adorned his wrists, and 
his pagne, which, loosely gathered round the waist, covered his naked feet, was a red 
silk with broad stripes of yellow. We stood up and unhatted, whilst a messenger 
bade us go forward and ' make service.' The consul objected to walking through the 
muddy and watery impluvium, and after some time obtained a partial clearing (the 
vulgar, which was excluded during Dr. Henry's audience, was now permitted to 
remain) of the step running along the left side of the room. As we approached the 
place where the naked cutlass boys crowded, there were some murmurs, signs to 

Fig. 120. Bronze plaque representing an official 
striking a sistrum (the striker broken). See reference 
by D R,, p. 108. Bankfield Museum, Halifax. 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvovs. 

stand back, and even to kneel. The officers passed on to the step in front of the 
throne. Again voices were heard. The consul, however, placed himself in front of 
his majesty, and after a low bow, introduced the commander and his other com- 
panions. The king acknowledged the compliment with a nod and a smile. The 
attendants proceeded to spread a mat on the step below and to the right of the 
throne ; the consul, however, objected to sit with patent leather boots in the dirty 
piscina, and the visitors were allow^ed to return to their original bench, which was 
now w^et with the profuse leakings of the roof. Then the palaver commenced. It 
was carried on by two interpreters, Saw^aye of Gwato, and Ogonna, of Benin ; 
George, the old ' parson's ' son, remaining by our side. The two former, when they 

addressed the king, knelt — not prostrated themselves — upon 
the step below the throne. The latter, as a kind of cousin, 
sat at squat. Each message began with ' king he send you 
service,' a formula duly returned. The state of Liverpool — 

Fig. 121. Bronze 
Ladle, probably for 
putting oil on the 
wick of the broad 

:22. Designs on arms of hand lamp (fig. 126). 

that is to say, England — was first inquired into and answered. 
The consul then complained of his treatment on the previous 
day. Of this the king palpably knew nothing, and the 
interpreters, as usual, slurred it over. Then came a lengthy 
enquiry on the part of the Obba, why white men did not 
trade to Gwato and Benin, and a request that the ' Governor 
would direct them to do so.' That personage replied that if his 
majesty would send down messengers, and establish a firm rule, 
European traders would not be slow to appear. Lastly, as the hour was waxing 
late, the consul stated that if Belzoni's papers could be recovered it would give great 
pleasure to the * king,' his sovereign ; adding that he would return a bale of cloth, 
value twenty pounds, for the trouble. The Obba kindly promised to send a 
messenger round with orders for the ' books ' to be given up. Then followed the 
usual difficulty of an African court dismissal." 

In later days when visited by Gallwey, there was still considerable etiquette at 
court : "In each of the compounds are a number of king's stewards, a brass anklet, 
and sometimes not even tiiat being the sum total of their wardrobe. Very few of 

Court Lijc and Etiquette. 119 

these functionaries have access to the king's presence, the penalty for passing beyond 
their own particular compound being death. The king keeps up a good deal of state, 
only a chosen few being permitted to speak to him direct. He is a very busy person- 
age, attending to all state matters himself." (p. 130). 

After reading the above descriptions, Mr. Punch, who visited Benin several 
times, writes me pointing out that apparently there was little or no change in 
the ceremonies as recorded in the past, when compared with the ceremonies he himself 
took part in. " It is not as if Europeans had constantly frequented Benin. There 
are lapses of generations between the recorded visits, yet at the end of so many 
centuries the courtiers seemed to know all the details which were en regie when a 
European arrived. Practically, Nyendael's reception was the same as my own. It 
is remarkable that the traditions which regulate the ceremonies should have been 
handed down so carefully." 

As at many African courts, the Queen Mother is a woman of importance. Thus 
Dapper says : " The king's mother is held in great esteem and has a splendid court, 
at a little distance outside the town, beautifully and magnificently built, where she 
resides with many women and daughters. She is consulted in all state affairs ; but by 
dint of a special law the king and his mother are not allowed to see each other, as 
long as they live." Lieut. King "was introduced to the Queen Mother, who resides 
in a walled town which belonged to her, situated about three or four miles from Benin. 
After having passed through two courts, he was conducted into an apartment where 
all sorts of refreshments were offered him. The queen entered soon afterwards, her 
right arm supported horizontally by one of her suite. She was dressed in European 
silks and laden with coral ornaments, and wore a big festooned hat, like that of her 
son. Through her interpreter, she addressed several questions to Lieut. King, such 
as ' How do you do ? ' ' What condition is your boat ? ' ' How did you cross the 
dangerous bar ? ' " Mr. Cyril Punch informs me that in his time the king's mother 
was called " lyoba ; she lived at a suburb called Iselu, about two miles north of 
Benin. She did everything the king did. From the day that he fulfilled the last 
rite which made him king, she never saw his face, but lived in her own quarter and 
practically had her own court." 

" I remember," remarks Mr. Punch, " one rather impressive scene when poor 
Powis (afterwards killed in the massacre) and myself first went to Benin. It was after 
the first public reception in one of the compounds, when we were taken in the even- 
ing to the king's hall and kept waiting there for an endless time (fig. 123). The hall was 
large, about 6oft. by 40ft., with the usual cistern in the middle ; we entered by door 
No. 3 and sat at a place marked D— people passing through all the time. As night 
fell the lamp C was lighted, and threw a ghastly light on a skull on the altar. Nobles 
kept coming in and took up their position on the right of the hall at A, many bring- 
ing with them the swing lamps already described (fig. 126) ; people also thronged in 
behind us at D. At length the king came in through the door from his private 
quarters. He was really elegantly dressed in flowing robes of gold and silver tissue, 
his arms being upheld by two of his own ' boys,' not by nobles. Many of his un- 
clothed attendants thronged in behind him, and took up a position on the left side of 
the hall at B. Conversation between the king and ourselv^es was kept up by means 
of interpreters, who walked up and down the length of the hall with every question 
and answer. At the finish the king wished to see us closer, and so we were led up to 
where the fetish marks were on the floor at the king's end. Before leaving we 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

created great astonishment and amusement by insisting on shaking hands with the 
king in European fashion." 



DOOR, 1 

IMH(rb P00f\ 


Fig. 123. Sketch Plan by Mr. C. 
Punch to illustrate a scene he 
witnessed at the Benin Court. 
A Position taken up by nobles. 
B Position of king's attendants. 
C Large Lamp (see fig. 124). 
D Position of Messrs. Powis & Punch 
F Juju altar painted white with a 
a sort of clay ; on it was a 
human skull. 
G Position of the king. 

The straight lines with circles at 
the ends were white fetish marks. 

Fig. 124. Small Standard Lamp 
consisting of a flat brass dish on an 
iron stick put into the ground as 
mentioned in description of Plan 
(fig. 123, C.) In the bason was a 
spoon like instrument as shown in 
fig. 121, for trimming and feeding 
the wick ; it was sometimes hung on 
the iron hooks of the iron upright. 
From a sketch by Mr. C. Punch. 

Fig. 125. Sketch from memory by 
Mr. C. Punch of the large Standard 
Lamps used in Benin. He writes me ; 
" I have been struck by the large lamps 
in the compounds exciting so little 
remark. They were about 20 feet high 
and the receptacles for the oil and wick 
were about 4 feet in diameter The 
stands were of wrought iron of good 
workmanship, and figures of toads, alli- 
gators, &c., were either applique or cast 
in the moulds and the bars hammered 
out to the required dimensions. These 
lamps were only alight on very big 

Court Life and Etiquette. 


" On another occasion, when I went to Benin and circumstances made it imper- 
ative that I should see the king the same night, I was taken by Aguramassi to the 
court where all the bronzes were kept. After waiting some time, the blast of 

Fig. 126. 
Fig. 126. A Benin Hand-Lamp. Every arm has a different design (see Fig. 122) and is about 
half an inch or 12 mm. wide ; two of the arms are cracked and have been rivetted together by means 
of pieces of brass plate (a) and copper rivets (b). The diameter of the pan is about 15 inches ^38 
centimetres). It will be observed that the two hawkbells depending above the mannikins are of 
different pattern from those hanging on the snuiTer fig. 127, the ornamentation being zigzag on one 
of the two and arched on the other. I have elsewhere pointed out that one of the dominant features 
of Benin art is its variety. " All the gentry had these lamps. Palm oil was put in the pan, and a 
piece of raw cotton wool placed on the eclge of the pan served as a wick ; a small flat piece of 
iron was placed on the top of the wick to prevent the oil all taking fire at once. Fig. 127 shows the 
implement used for snuffing and picking up the cotton wool. The open compounds at night, full 
of people and lit up with these lamps, were very striking " (C, Punch.) 















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XI 03 


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O (U 





o o 

G -" 



Pl, (U 



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i o 




E 03 


<U lU 


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05 u 


qi: 3 



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<U V! 












































Court Life and Etiquette. 


approaching horns was heard and Aguramassi opened the door a little bit, and as a 
great favour told me to admire the king. His majesty was approaching with 
followers from one side while Ewagwe and his followers approached from the other 
side. Both were dressed up in weird costumes and stepped out to meet each other, 
performing a very solemn sort of dance, after which Ewagwe retired, and the king 
entered the compound to talk with me. He had been doing some ' business ' as the 
interpreter expressed it, and in so far as I could make out, Benin spent its nights and 
most of its days in doing these ' businesses,' whatever they were. 

" I spoke above of the astonishment Powis and I created by shaking hands with 
the king. Of course ordinary people grovelled in front of his majesty, but after the 
first address by the nobles, the usual method was to strike the right hand, clenched, 
on the palm of the left hand, open, and then extend the clenched hand towards the 
king or chief, saying ' adow.' " 

" It was always ' quite the thing ' for an African potentate to have at least two 
slaves fanning him. The usual shape of Bini fans was as shewn in Fig. 104, but 
sometimes they were shovel-shaped, and on occasion they may have been larger. 
They were made of cowhide (green) with the hair on, and bright coloured pieces of 
flannel or Haussa leather were sewn on to make the pattern. No Ukoba, starting 
out to make himself a nuisance to some village, would feel quite dressed without one 
of these fans — in fact, except the anklet and necklet, the fan was all he took in the 
way of clothes " (C. Punch). 

On entering the country or the town, there was the curious custom which com- 
pelled a stranger to have his feet washed. Before entering the city, Legroing and 
Balon had to visit the captain of war, and have their feet washed. (Landolphe, I., 
p. 332). Similarly, Mr. C. Punch writes me: "On landing at Guaton, we were 
received on the top of the bluff by the Ahuraku and his suite, and a great point was 
made of our having our feet washed by them at a place sacred to the memory of 
Assigie, or Asije, the king of long-ago, first connected with Europeans. A very 
ancient brass bowl was produced for the purpose. This appeared to me to have been 
a bit of old Portuguese repousse work, and was always left lying about in this place 
devoted to Assigie pending the arrival of some European." It will be remembered that 
all the members of Phillips' party had their feet washed at Gwato. 

Fig. 130. Jekri fan of green cowhide with red flannel 
pattern in the form of a human figure and crosses. In 
the possession of the Author. 















Rapiers — Analagous weapons — Shields — Javelins, spears, assagais — Bows and poisoned arrows — 
Good marksmen — An archer opposes the Punitive Expedition — Cannons — Muskets — Method of 
holding guns — The army — 2,000 to 100,000 men (126) — Field Marshal (Captain of War) — Army 
uniform— Discipline — Booty — Decay in Nyendael's time (,127) — Cowardice — Mules preferred to 
horses — Fate of unsuccessful commander — Power of War Captain (128) — His retin ue — Fawckner's 
interview — War Captain a youth of 16 — Burton's interview — War Captain drunk (130) — Descrip- 
tion of the War Captain — Bad behaviour. 

The weapons in use by the Bini are frequently indicated on the carved ivory 
work and on the metal castings, but in the following pages are collected the notes on 
these articles as given by various travellers. We are told by D.R. that "they have 
a sort of weapon or rapier which is rather broad, and which hangs from their necks 
on a leather belt reaching till below their shoulders." Dapper does not mention this 
class of weapon, but Nyendael speaks of cutlasses or hangers, and small poniards. 
Fawckner says he saw " some swords of their own manufacture, which were very 
well turned out of hand " (p. 82). D.R. speaks of the use of shields, but of these 
Nyendael remarks they are so " light, and made of small bambus, that they cannot 
ward off anything that strikes with any force ; so that they are rather ornamental, 
than really serviceable for defence." Javelins are mentioned by D.R. ; spears and 
assagais by Dapper, and assagais by Nyendael, but none of these writers explain the 
differences in these weapons. Dapper tells us they used " bows and poisoned 
arrows, which the fetizeros or demon-charmers prepare very carefully. After a 
battle, or at the end of the war, the remaining arrows are brought to the king's 
arsenal and put into special rooms ; then so many new arrows as are wanted for a 
future war are immediately made and poisoned by the fetizeros or demon-charmers." 
Nyendael also has it that the arrows were poisoned. This was done with 
Strophanthus sarmentosus, Str. Preusii and sp. not classified, all used with various 
kinds of nastiness added " (C. Punch.) " The boys are very early initiated into 
the arts of war and the use of arms ; they use the bow and arrow with surprising 
dexterity, and seldom fail hitting their mark even at a great distance " (Fawckner, 
p. 65). Bacon when describing the work of the Punitive Expedition says Iwws 
and arrows were seen, but never was an arrow fired. The arrows found were 
poisoned, but the nature of the poison is unknown (p. 57). Dr. F. N. Roth, how- 
ever, mentions an old man using bow and arrows. Fawckner observed two or three 
pieces of cannon, of British and Portuguese manufacture ; but they were not 
mounted (p. 81), and ''was credibly informed that they could make muskets, with 
the exception of the lock, in great perfection." He says they were celebrated in 
the use of the gun, which they hold in a peculiar manner. " For fear of accident they 
never bring the piece to the shoulder, but place the left hand against the end of the 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvovs. 

stock, thus supporting it by the hands only. On one occasion I was a witness to the 
superiority of this plan over the ordinary method. A man discharged his piece, and 
it burst and shivered the barrel in pieces, whilst he did not sustain the slightest 
injury ; had he fired as we are accustomed to do, his arm would have been shattered 
and his life endangered " (Fawckner, pp. 65-66). 

From the Portuguese accounts we have seen that the kings of Benin were war- 
like, and must conclude that the soldiery was not without martial qualities. D.R. 
tells us that " the king has many soldiers which are subject to him, and they have a 
colonel [sic'] over them like a captain. The captain has some of his own soldiers 
under him, and always goes in the middle of them, and they run round about him 
singing and leaping, making much noise and sport. Such captains are very proud of 
their office and bear themselves in a very stately manner, and go very magnificently 

Fig. 133. 

Figs. 133 and 134. 

Fig. 134. 

-Metal powder flasks. 

through the streets." So too from Dapper we learn that " the King of Benin wages 
great wars against the neighbouring kings, i.e., beyond Benin to the east and north, 
and conquers many of their towns and villages, getting plenty of booty consisting of 
jasper and other things. He can call out twenty thousand well armed men in a day, 
and if needs be, eighty or a hundred thousand, on account of which fact he is much 
dreaded by all the surrounding peoples. His army is commanded by a field marshal 
(Owe-Asserry, in their language) who has supreme power, and is entitled to do any- 
thing like the king himself. The nobles when about to start for war, dress them- 
selves in scarlet cloth bought from the Dutch, in order to outshine the others. Some 
wear collars made of elephant teeth with leopard teeth between, and high red 
Turkish caps, lined or bordered with leopard or civet-skins, from which a long horse 
tail hangs down by way of ornament. Common soldiers keep the upper part of their 
bodies naked, but from the hips downwards they wear a garment as fine as silk. In 
fighting they keep good discipline and order ; for nobody is allowed to yield a step 

War and Weapons. 

I 2' 

although he sees death near. Nobody gets any of the booty but the field marshal, 
called by them Owe-Asserry or Seasaire, unless he take something secretly and 
stealthily ; nevertheless everybody thanks the king for the honour of being esteemed 
worthy to march up and wage war for him." 

Matters were, however, very different at the time when Nyendael paid his 
visits ; he reports, " I cannot say much for their wars ; for notwithstanding that they 
are continually fallen on by the pirates or robbers, and their neighbours not subject 
to the King of Benin, they yet are ignorant of the art of war ; for being by necessity 
drawn into the field, their conduct is so very confused, that they themselves are 
ashamed of it. They have no officers or commanders and each man takes his own 
course, without regarding his neighbour. They are so very cowardly that nothing 
but the utmost necessity will oblige them to fight ; and even then they had much 
rather suffer the greatest losses than defend themselves. When their flight is pre- 

FiG 135. — Plaque in the British Museum. 
The scene represents the bringing in a 
prisoner of distinction ; in the background 
a figure similar to the prisoner, and two 
figures with drum and horn, belonging to 
the escourt. 

Fig. 136. — Plaque in Bristish Museum 
representing the upper portion of the figure, 
with curious shaped hat, of a warrior, with 
helmet similar to a bishop's mitre. Note 
his shield and Nyendael's remarks on this 
article of defence, which are confirmed by 
C. Punch. 

vented they return upon the enemy, but with so little courage and conduct, that they 
soon fling down their arms, and either run away, or surrender themselves." 
Nyendael, is however, very pessimistic. British experience of the native is, how- 
ever, quite the contrary, in spite of the fact that they were badly armed when 
fighting against the Punitive Expedition, no one can say that in warfare the Bini 
were cowardly in any way. 

In Landolphe's time the King of Benin was still considered a considerable 
power. " He can raise 100,000 men in twenty-four hours. Although he has horses 
in his kingdom, mules only are used in warfare, because they are as indefatigable as 
easily nourished. The horsemen are armed with lances and pistols. As soon as the 
council has decided on war, the king transmits his orders direct to the captain-general, 
and if the commander does not know how to succeed, his head is cut off in expiation 
of his misfortune or inability" (II., p. 62). Beauvais says that not only can the 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

king put 100,000 men in the field, but he can impress as many of his subjects as he 
likes, or as circumstances may require (p. 143). 

The captain of war was also a power in the land. A hall of the war captain's 
compound is described as "elegantly encrusted with cowries"; in another hall "forty 
feet long were several badly executed statues which were the representations of his 
ancestors, who had exercised the same functions as he did." (Landolphe, I., pp. 98, 99). 

When Landolphe and his party arrived at the war captain's compound, " two 
large brass basins, nine feet [sic] in circumference, were brought in full of water in 
which slaves washed our feet, declaring that without this ceremony we could not see 
the captain general." They were told that the war captain, named Jabou [Ojoma] 
was the richest in the country, that his power equalled that of the king, that he 
possessed more than ten thousand slaves, which he never sold, and that going to war 
he always had fifty to sixty thousand men under him. (ibid, I., pp. 98, 100, loi). 

Fig. 137. — Plaque representing 
a noble with curious helmet. 
British Museum. 

Fig. 138. — Ivory Armlet, repre- 
senting a soldier with bow. Height, 
6in. (152 cm.) British Museum. 

Fawckner (p. 81) speaks of the war captain thus: "We arrived at the house 
belonging to the captain of war, in the suburbs, and had an interview with him. On 
being ushered into his presence I was surprised to see a youth of about 16, seated on 
a stool in a large hall, and surrounded by a number of venerable chiefs, most of 
them four times his age. I afterwards found that his father, who held the situation, 
had recently been sent to conduct the war in the interior, and had fallen in battle ; 
the office therefore devolved on the son, who is next in rank to the king. As soon 
as I entered, he approached me, and as a token of friendship presented some gooras 
[Kola nuts] in a long wooden box, beautifully carved and ornamented. I was then 
conducted to a smaller and more private appartment, where he ordered a glass 
of rum to be brought." 

Burton's account goes more into details : " The abode of the Captain of War 
lies on the outskirts of the city, north-west by west of the palace, and a little off 
the high road of ingress. It is in the Ijebu quarter, or ' beach,' as the people here 
say. The house had the usual clay walls ribbed like corrugated iron, and was a 
complete Castle Rackrent in appearance. We passed through an external and very 

Way and Weapons. 


shabby atrhim into the reception-room, and were seated upon a mat spread in the 
deep alcove, which in Yoruba always occupies the head of the apartments. On our 

Fig. 139. — Ornamental small port- 
able powder keg ? 


Fig. 140. — Ornamentation 
on side of fig. 139. 

Fig. 141. — Knife of unusual shape for 
such a Benin made article It is a copy of 
the large size butcher's knife, a common 
article of trade in Benin. 

left was a similar but shallower niche, containing an altar and its furniture, and 
opposite it a raised earthbunk, upon which various attendants were clustered. . . . 


130 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

He was standing in the upper alcove with two attendants gingerly supporting his 
coral and iron braceletted arms, which hung down loose and away from his sides. 
The general effect of his attitude upon a new comer was that of a fainting man being 
caught in the act of falling ; in this case it was exaggerated by the mawkish and 
maudlin look of the warrior, who was at least ' half seas over.' . . . Presently the 
Captain of War, supported by his two arm-bearers, followed us and took his seat by 
our side. We now remarked his dress and figure. His forehead was adorned with 
a broad stripe of chalk froin the hair to the nose-tip, and upon this was drawn a thin 
line of glazy clotted blood from a goat freshly sacrificed ; a similar thin streak ran 
along the big toe of his right foot. He had evidently just been ' blooded ' as stag- 
hunters say. His poll was shaven, whereas those around him wore their wool 
combed upwards and a little off the brow, not unlike the erected crest of a cockatoo. 
His back-hair was allowed to grow, and fastened at the place where women usually 
wear a comb, with leopards' claws and birds' quills of small size. His face was 
clean-shaven except under the chin, where there grew a few dwarf curls, like capers. 
His arms, which were soft and smooth, rejoiced in long lines of coral and polished 
iron-rings ; and his dress was a large petticoat-like cloth, the head, bust and feet 
being entirely nude. His figure was that of a tall, well-proportioned man, perhaps 
thirty-two years old, of olivine colour ; his features were sub-negro, and he had the 
fine long-lashed eyes general in this part of Africa. After the Captain sat down the 
ceremonies began. He keeps up an abundance of state, all knelt who approached 
him, and made low congees w^hen addressed by him. A small rough stick in his left 
hand was repeatedly struck upon the ground, whilst he marshalled his dependants 
and expelled intruders. When Sawaye, who acted interpreter, had been seated close 
to our left upon a kind of settee with lock and padlock, a plate of kola nuts and 
squares of cocoa-nut was brought to the consul, who, according to custom, peeled 
one of the former with his nails, and splitting it into four pieces^ handed a bit to 
all present. This rite is equivalent to eating bread and salt in Arabia. A square 
of cocoa-nut was then placed in each man's hand, and we were obliged to sip 
a glass of tombo, or palm-wine : it was too tart for our taste, and, indeed, no- 
where in Benin did we find it equal to that of Gwato. Whilst this was going 
on, the Captain of War kept 'giving service,' which we punctually acknowledged, 
and, after often repeating ' Oyibo,' white man,^ in his jollity he pulled the consul's 
beard, a compliment which was at once returned in kind. There was a general look 
about him which told of liquor far stronger than ' Pardon wine.' To show his 
geography, he inquired about the war at Liverpool ; to prove his superiority he asked 
the consul what trade he came to make, a question of which the 'King Mouf 
speedily and roughly disposed ; and he informed us that he had washed our feet, a 
hint that he wanted us to wash his throat. . . . The Captain of War was waxing 
rude. He seized a chain and seals which one of the gentlemen had imprudently 
exposed, and seemed inclined to break it. This little freak nearly led to a scene." 
(pp. 285, 286, and 287). 

Mr. C. Punch tells me that Nyendael, Landolphe, Fawckner and Burton, all 
describe exactly Ojomo's house — which was afterwards destroyed by the British. 
The Ojomo in Mr. Punch's time did not drink, was a consumptive, and a most 
dignified person. 

1 " The kola nut usually divides into four cloves ; sometimes it is found with five or six ; these, 
however, are mostly used for fetish purposes " — R.B. 

2 " The language of Benin is said to be intelligible at Abeokuta and the Egbas generally ; it must, 
then, belong to the Aku or Yoruba family " — R.B. 


Early exports — Pepper sought by Portuguese— Tusks — Falling off of trade — Palm oil — Cloths — 
Cowrie money — D.R's. local markets — Goods for sale — Market women (132) — Dapper's local 
markets — Market restrictions — Settlement of market disputes — Dutch purchases (133) — Dutch im- 
ports — Landolphe's markets^ Fawckner's markets (134) — Burton's poor opinion of the markets — 
Punch's markets — Restrictions on Europeans— Prohibition of women (135) — Arrival of a ship — 
Canoes ' lifted ' under penalty of king's displeasure — Native houses taken for goods — Settling 
prices — Trading done by wives and slaves (136) — Fish trade — Mercantile civility — Entry dues 
hardly worth mentioning — Interpretors — Ceremonial bargaining — Heavy entry dues — List of 
prices fixed (137) — Prices of slaves and of ivory — Traders decline to pay heavy entry dues — 
Bold's list of prices (138) — The credit system (139) — Honesty of the merchants — The standard 
of exchange — Pagne v. Pawn — Cowries as currency (140). Industry — People not industrious — 
Cloth and mat making (141) — Looms— Value of Benin cloth — Tapestry made by king's 'boys' — 
Sizes of the cloths made — Dyeing — Tradition of the discovery of salt (142) — Methods of salt 
getting — Soap (143) — Coloured woods — Gold mines. Farming — Slave work — The Igba — The 
Peppers. Fishing — Bini did not fish (144) — Fishing rights — Stupifying the fish — Fishing by 
line and in pools. Hunting — Elephant hunting — Poisoned arrows — Poor results — A great 
hunter — His ability — Poaching not sport — Night shooting — Drives — Hunting dogs — Hunters 
a privileged class (145) — Apprentices — How not to get lost — Charms. 


In the chapter deaHng with the history of the discovery of Benin, we have 
seen that pepper was one of the chief commodities sought for by the Portuguese. 
Windam reports obtaining 30 to 40 kintals of pepper at i cwt. per kintal, and he 
relates that "in case their merchandises would not extend to the value of so much 
pepper, the king promised to credit them to their next returne." Bird and Welsh 
got 94 bags and 28 elephants' tusks, but they had to wait for the pepper, *' it not 
being ready, as in that king's reign no Christians had been to Benin." Evidently 
trade between the Europeans and Bini had fallen off. Welsh relates that the 
commodities he "brought home were pepper and elephants' teeth, oyle of palme, 
cloth made of cotton wool very curiously woven, and cloth made of the barke of 
palme trees. Their money is pretie white shels, for golde and silver we saw none 
They have good store of sope, and it smelleth like beaten violets. Also many pretie 
fine mats that they make, and spoones of elephants' teeth very curiously wrought 
with divers portions of foules and beasts made upon them." 

We have however to go to the good old Dutch chronicler D. R. to get an idea 
of the trade as it was three hundred years ago. He says : " They also have special 
places where they hold various markets, for at one place they hold their great market 
day which they call Dia de Ferro, and at another place they hold their little market, 
called Ferro ; to these places they bring all sorts of things to sell, such as live dogs, of 
which they eat many, roasted monkies, catfish (meerkatse), rats, parrots, fowls, yams, 
manigette pepper in pods or ears, dried lizards, palm oil, large beans, as well as 


Great Benin — Its Customs^ Art and Horrors. 

various sorts of fruits, vegetables, and animals fit for food. Much firewood and 
woodwork, such as dishes and drinking cups and other sorts are also brought to 
market for sale. Also much thread spun from cotton, of which they make their 
clothes, similar to those made on the Gold Coast, but lighter and finer, but to 
describe all would take too long. They also bring a great quantity of ironwork to 
sell there, such as implements for fishing, ploughing^ and otherwise preparing 
the land. Similarly many weapons, such as javelins and others suitable for war and 
strife. These markets and traffickings are held and arranged in a very orderly 
manner, and everyone who comes to market with his wares or merchandise knows 
where to go and settle down with them, i.e., at which place it is customary for an 
article to be sold. Women^ are much employed as sellers, and even sent in mobs to 
the Gold Coast, as we have already mentioned." 

Fig. 142. — The 
blade a flat iron 
disc with a point. 

Fig. 143. — Side view 

Fig. 144. 
Front view 

Figs. 142, 143 & 144. — Native hoe from a sketch by Mr. C. Punch, The blade is wrought 
and tempered by the village blacksmith. For the handle a small forked branch is obtained ; 
one arm of the fork is left long and the other is cut short ; a hole is burned into the long 
arm, and the point of the blade inserted in such a way that the flat back of the blade 
rests against the short arm as shown in fig. 143. The hoe when in use being always more 
or less drawn towards the user, the arrangement of the short arm keeps the blade in position. 

From Dapper we learn that " Every three or four days there is also a market 
held at the village of Gotton, where the people from Great Benin, Arbon, and other 
places in the neighbourhood, come to market, where not only the above mentioned 
stuffs but also all sorts of food are offered for sale. Not everybody is allowed to 
bargain with the Dutch there, but only certain people whom the king licenses, and 
these buy the European goods from us and other white people in Arbon, and go and 
sell them again at Gotton. The inhabitants of the town of Benin trade among each 
other with their stuffs, made in the village or town of Koffe, situated at a day's 
journey from Great Benin ; but no white men are allowed to go there. On the way 
between Gotton and the town of Benin, there are many large squares, supporting 

1 Of course D.R. uses the word to plough in its probable earlier sense of to thrust, and therefore 
he is speaking of a hoe and not of a plough. 

2 " They were mostly the Ugwini women, but all were equally dishonest, and apt to lure the Jekri 
men into trouble, so that their husbands or the Ukoba could have an excuse for swooping down and 
making what they called war " (C.P.) 

Trade, Industry, S^c. 133 

busy markets on fixed days, where a great number of people from all the adjacent 
places assemble to trade with each other. All differences and quarrels occurring 
during the bargaining are brought before the nobles and settled ; for the judges of 
those places have hardly any authority, and the nobles represent the king as long as 
they are there." 

" The goods, which are bought by the Dutch and other nations on the Benin 
river, in exchange for our [European] native products, are cotton stuffs as in Rio 
Lagos, near Kuramo, jasper, slaves, but only women, for men are not allowed to be 
exported ; leopard skins, some pepper and akori, which is a sort of blue coral, 
obtained from the bottom of the water by diving ; for it grows like other coral, in the 
form of trees on stony ground under water. The Dutch export these akories (which 
the natives of the place make into coral beads) to the Gold Coast in order to sell 
them to the blacks, as the women wear them as an ornament in their hair " (Dapper). 

The Dutch imports were :^ 

Gold and silver cloth. 

Red cloth, 

Kanetjes^ ; Little jugs, probably from canajos, painted red at one end ; 

All sorts of fine cotton cloths. 


Orange, lemon and green chalk beads, ^ 

Red velvet. 

Yellow copper bangles, each weighing five ounces and a half [old Dutch weight] . 

Lavender and violet-coloured camlet (qtiispel-gvein.y 

Coarse kersey [woollen stuffs] , 

Fine beads [? coral] , 

Harlem stuffs with large flowers [patterns] and stiffened, 

Red glass ear-pendants. 

Iron bars, 

Gilt looking-glasses, 


Boesjes, i.e.. East Indian scallop-shells or cowries, used by the natives instead 
of money.'* 

" The large pieces of stuff, especially the striped ones, we sell again on the Gold 
Coast, where they are in demand ; but the entirely blue ones are mostly in demand 
on the Gabun and Angola." 

After a long interval we get a glimpse of marketing when European goods had 
already a considerable sale. Thus Landolphe mentions (II., 49) : " Every day a 
market is held on a square a fourth of a league broad and nearly as long. It opens 
from II a.m. to 12 noon in order to allow time for people to arrive. All sorts of eat- 
ables are brought from the neighbourhood, European goods such as muslins 

1 Ogilby translates this "canvas striped with red at one end." 

2 The Dutch word used by Dapper is paste. Ogilby translates this " confection of oranges and 
lemons and other green fruits." These beads have always been a feature of Benin trade in which 
they are known as " seed beads " or chalk beads. They are quite small, and threaded and sold 
in packets costing about 2/- each. 

3 Ogilby has this, " Lavender and violet cotton seed." 

* According to Ogilby " East India little horns or shells." 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

Indiennes, Bretagne, English and Portuguese cloths, Cholet and silk kerchiefs, hats, 
knives, &c., as well as a large number of utensils made of iron and copper by the Bini." 
Fawckner appears to speak of one market only, " which is a very large one, and 
the resort of natives in all parts of the country. At first sight it presented a busy 
and animated appearance ; the ground on which it is held is a large plain, covered 
with temporary streets, each compartment formed by upright poles, and roofed with 
large mats. Underneath these sheds are exposed the different articles of merchan- 
dise, viz : — salt, black soap, yams, plantains, pins for the hair, of very rough 
manufacture, and various other articles " (p. 83). 

Burton's party visited " the market in the Igosi quarter, with which we were 
disappointed ; it was little larger than the small gathering under a tree in front of the 
palace. The people talk of one very large bazaar in the Akalwa quarter, distant 

about two hours' march; probably the de- 
pressed state of the capital would prevent 
its maintaining such establishments as the 
chief cities of Yoruba can shew. There 
was nothing peculiar in the scene — a knot 
of men and women sitting and standing in 
the hot sun, bargaining and chaffering over 
the common country produce, beans and 
maize, kokos and plantains, fried fish fry^ 
and shrimps, salt, red pepper, and similar 
comestibles. Cowries, the country currency, 
lay in every basket. Of these small places 
there are as many at Benin as at Abeokuta." 

Lieut. King simply mentions " There are 
markets where all the produce of the country 
is exposed for sale." 

"There w^ere two places at which big 
markets have been held from time imme- 
morial, both situated to the S. and S.E. of 
Benin City. There were probably others 
on the other side of Benin City, while Gwato and other water-side places had small 
market days. Benin City had small market days, but these were not central. The 
two big markets were Igoro and Uruegi (see fig. 146). They were large clearings 
in the forest with only small villages adjacent. Here every five days the women 
congregated from all sides and did their exchanges, going from these to attend the 
smaller markets at the water-side places." (C. Punch). 

So much for what we may call the home markets. " As regards the commerce 
of the foreigners with the natives," says Dapper, " that is carried on up the Benin 
river, near the village Gotton, where the Dutch go up in light boats and yachts, but 
not without the king's order. The king chooses some fiadors or state councillors, 
who alone are allowed to meet the Europeans, whom they call white men. For those 
who are ordered to serve in the time of war are absolutely forbidden to have inter- 
course with the white people, nay, they may not even enter their sheds, and still less 

Fig. 145. — Native axe, from a 
sketch by Mr. Punch. A chisel- 
shaped piece of tempered iron is 
stuck into the enlarged portion of 
a branch close before the forks 
which are cut off. The hole is as 
usual burnt in. For choice one of 
the following woods is used : Fvntu- 
mia elastica, Baphia nitida, and 
Ebanus sericens. 

1 " Dried fish of all sizes was a regular article of trade between the Jekri and Bini. 
and salt were considered by the Jekri to be the most profitable goods to trade in " (C.P.) 

Dried fish 

Trade, Industry, (s^c. 


buy European articles from them ; but are bound to buy those articles at the highest 
prices from the above fiadors and merchants. On the other hand, no merchant or 
fiador is allowed to undertake anything connected with warfare, as everybody has to 
follow his own particular calling. Nor is any woman allowed to enter a shed of the 
Europeans, for such would be considered as something shameful.^ When a ship with 
her cargo calls on this coast, a passador is sent to notify the king. The latter then 
sends two or three fiadors, accompanied by twenty or thirty vailyes, i.e., merchants, 

in order to negotiate with the 
white men, who at once travel 
quickly by land from Benin to 
Gotton, providing themselves 
with as many canoes and padd- 
lers as they want, which are 
taken away everywhere, al- 
though the owners themselves 
may want them. Whenever 
these owners object to this they 
are referred to the king, and 
asked whether they are not 
slaves to the king, and whether 
all their goods do not belong to 
the king, and they are ordered 
to be quiet under threat of being 
sent to the king's court. When 
all have arrived at Gotton or 
wherever else they have to be, 
they choose the best houses and 
dwellings, and place all their 
merchandise in them, without 
asking the owners' leave. Some- 
times if one house is not roomy 
enough for them, they make the 
owner build another house near 
it, and use that also as their 
own, so that the owner often 
has no room for himself. The 
owner is likewise obliged to cook 
for them the first day without 
getting paid for it. When 
these fiadors come to the 
sheds for the first time, they are in court dress, with jasper round their necks, and, 
kneeling down, they present the salutations from their king, and his mother and the 
greatest fiadors, in whose name they bring some eatables as a present, and pay 
many compliments, asking about the state of the visitors' country, and their wars 
against their enemies, and so on ; after which they have drinks all round, and they 
leave without any reference to trade. The next day they come back, with the request 

Fig. 146.— Sketch Plan by Mr. C. Punch, to 
show the position of the important Igora and 
Uruegi Markets. 

1 He relates that at Warri, " women as well as men came without any fear of anybody to our sheds 
in order to trade there." 

136 Great Benin — Its Customs^ Art and Horrors. 

to view the new merchandise, which is then shown to them. The goods they have 
purchased on the previous visit retain their previously fixed prices ; but for new 
goods new prices and tariffs are arranged, with which they are sometimes occupied 
whole months, bartering for as much as they can. As soon as the market prices 
have been agreed upon the trading proceeds."^ On this Mr. Punch remarks : " To 
go to Benin was a serious undertaking, and to be sent there was tantamount to a 
death sentence. All this description of Dapper although of so long ago is excellent." 

As we have seen elsewhere, according to Nyendael, the rich men leave their 
affairs to their wives and slaves, " who go to all the circumjacent villages to trade in 
all sorts of merchandizes, or otherwise serve for daily wages, and are obliged to 
bring the greatest part of their gain in trade or hire to their masters," while the 
ordinary citizens when they hear of any ships arriving in the river, go to trade, " and 
if no ships come, they send their slaves to Rios Lagos, or other places, to buy fish, 
of which they make a very profitable trade further inland." He tells us too that " the 
Europeans are here extraordinarily civilly treated ; for the customs which we are 
obliged to pay for every ship to the king, the great lords, the governors of the place 
where we trade, the niercadors and fiadors, or whatever persons else who have any demand 
upon us, do not amount to above six pounds sterling ; for which we become entirely 
free to trade." Nyendael also states : " On our arrival here we are obliged to pay 
some sort of customs to these brokers and the governors, which are so inconsider- 
able, that they are hardly worth mentioning.^ . . . The persons who treat with us on 
their behalf are such as are thereto appointed by the governors, and are called by the 
above mentioned names of niercadors and fiadors. and these are the only merchants 
with whom we deal. This custom has arisen from the fact that these factors can 
speak a miserable sort of Portuguese, which qualifies them to talk with us. This is 
their only virtue, without which they would be looked upon as the very scum of their 
countrymen, and not thought worthy a name amongst them." 

Landolphe thus describes the custom of fixing prices for the markets. "The 
day after my arrival at Gwato, two passadors arrived from Benin in order to instruct 
me that I must declare all the goods I had on board, and to inform me that in two 
days' time forty fiadors would come from the city as overseers to value every article ; 
that the price being once established I would not be allowed to increase it, and that 
such settlement would serve as the basis for meeting the rights of entry, according 
to custom which existed in favour of the king and the big men of his kingdom. The 
rights are as follows: a three-masted ship pays 15,000 francs, a two-masted vessel 
is freed by payment of two-thirds of this sum, and a single-masted ship pays much 

^ Regarding Warri, "the Dutch come to trade into the Forkado river, importing the same goods 
as they do to Benin, in order to exchange them for slaves, for here the best and strongest slaves are 
to be got to the number four hundred or more every year, and jasper and akori (beads), but these 
last-mentioned articles only in small quantities. The natives are very careful with these articles, 
barely willing to sell them except above their value. These blacks are not good-natured and calm 
traders ; they will barter days and months in order to buy the goods at a low price. Then they 
keep the price at that level, in which circumstance they are pretty much like the Benin people." 

2 " Our Dutch friend of old seems to have found the fiadors, &c., rather useful people and easily 
satisfied. I soon found in trading that I was dealing with a regular spider's web of old customs, and 
with ways which were no doubt useful in their time, but which in 1889 were an unmitigated 
nuisance. The king himself was not extortionate nor unreasonable, but the governors must have 
entirely fallen from grace since the time of my Dutch predecessor" (C.P.) 

Trade, Industry, &-c. 


less. The following is the tariff for a three-masted vessel, with the rank of the 
people who receive it, in pagnes — money worth two francs {monnaie de deux francs): 

900 pagnes ... ... 1800 francs. 

The king 

The war captain general 300 

Twenty ' big men', each 100 

Forty fiadors, each 20 

Six saladors [interpreters] , each 20 

Forty carcadors [sort of porter] , each 10 
Three Gwato fiadors, each 20 

Various gifts which amount to close on 








Total ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 1 5 160 francs. 

" The forty fiadors having arrived, they came to my office and said to me ' You 
must give us each a glass of brandy and a pipe and hvasse [fathom] of tobacco. 
While we smoke you shall place into three very large copper basons all the merchan- 
dise you have brought in La Negresse [the ship] . We will fix the prices which shall 
be credited you in trading for blacks [slaves] . We also caution you that you are not 
allowed to increase any prices fixed by the assembly under pain of having your trade 
stopped.' I had, of course, the same rights as to the prices for slaves which I was 
establishing. After I had exposed my goods piece by piece in the basons, they took a 

Cholet kerchief which was valued at 

Then i piece Nimes silk kerchiefs . . . 

^ piece chintz indienne, 7 ells 

Bretagne cloth, 5 ells 

Rouen cotton, 6 ells 

Surat fine muslin (hafetas), 5 ells 

Cholet dress cloth, 6 ells 

Nimes silk-satin, half silk, half thread, 6 

Indian chintz (Perse des Indes), 5 ells 


I role of Brazil smoking tobacco 


•2 J5 " " 

I brass bason, 3 feet in diameter 

I improved foot soldier's gun 
I ,, dragoon horse pistol 

I ,, sabre 

I barrel of powder, 5 lbs. 
100 gun flints 

6 Flemish knives,^ painted, in gayacum wood handles ... 

I case containing a pair of scissors, a razor, and a small piece 

slate (whetstone) 
I common hat, edged with red wool 
I barrel of brandy, 20 pints 
I liquor case with 12 flagons of i^ pints each 
I bar of iron, 7 feet long, 3 inches wide ... 
I necklace of coral, 40 francs per lb. 

1 Elsewhere Landolphe mentions that the "natives do not Hke clasp knives 




















































they all carry their 

knives at their sides in leather shea,ths, which they make themselves." (I., p. 124). 


138 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

I ,, round coral, the size of rosary beads, 60 francs per 

lb. ..._ _ ... 8 „ 

I „ small coral, consisting of 12 little strings ... ... 5 ,, 

When they had finished their valuations they fired ofT several guns in order to 
inform me that trade was now open to me. Then a slave man and a woman were 
brought in. The fiadors fixed the price of the man, who was well made and without 
defects, at 120 pagnes, and the woman at 100 pagnes. But I objected to these 
valuations, and after long discussions it was agreed I should pay 100 pagnes for a 
fine man, and go pagnes for a fine women. I purchased the first two individuals at 
these prices, which were converted into an assortment of various goods, according to 
the valuations which I have just mentioned. Trade went ahead : fifteen to eighteen 
men [slaves] passed daily on board, so that in three months time I had completed my 
cargo, which constituted of four hundred and ten blacks of both sexes, and sixty 
thousand pounds of ivory of various lengths and thicknesses. I paid for the ivory 
ten sous (five pence) a pound when the tusks weighed less than twenty pounds, but 
fifteen or twenty sous (seven pence half-penny to ten pence) when they exceeded this 
weight " (I., pp. 124-129). 

" In later times the king would tell the European traders what was expected of 
them, and begin with a long list of what was to be given to the various officials, but 
conditions were altered and the traders declined to pay the high price demanded for 
right of entry " (C. Punch). 

Another very interesting account of the method of trading is from the pen of 
Lieut. Bold, and is as follows. " The measures principally in use are the oil jars 
which are of two sorts, the largest containing about four gallons, and the smallest 
not quite three ; for powder a small half-pint mug, and for salt a mess kid, or crew, 
made to contain five pounds. There is a difference to be observed in the payment 
for the oil to the king, who has one and a half pawn for the large jars, and one 
pawn for the smallest, whilst the people only receive one for the former, and two 
pawns for three of the latter. 

I. All handkerchiefs. 

I. Long cloths per yard. 

I. Two crews of salt. 

2 to 3. Iron bars. 

15 to 20. Neptunes. 

1. Two quart jugs. 

3. Trade hats. 
10 to 12. Fine hats 

8. Guns, short French banded. 

4. Rum, per gallon. 

2. Brass pans. 
Coral pipe beads. 

I. Looking-glasses. 


1. Copper rods, two. 

2. Ginghams. 

White hafts, a few desirable. 
2. Bandanoes, each handkerchief. 

A few copper rods. 

Trade Industry, &=€. 139 

" The large jars contain about 281bs. of oil, and the small ones 20. On entering 
the river, vessels are boarded by the two governors of Bobee and New Town, with 
whom you send up a deputy to treat with the King ot Warree, accompanied with the 
following comey or custom, which he must receive previous to opening trade. Thirty 
pieces of the most common cloth, six guns, one barrel of powder, a small cask of 
rum, and a few other small articles. The same form is necessary for the King of 
Benin, if you wish to purchase ivory, which is the principal produce of his dominions, 
and may be had in great abundance, at the rate of three pounds for two pawns, or at 
most one pawn per pound, for which they take in exchange a quantity of salt with 
other articles. The governors above mentioned ought much to be mistrusted and 
guarded against ; at the same time, as representatives of the king, who never comes 
to the river, they must be humoured and encouraged, for their power is very great 
and almost uncontrolled " (The Merchants' and Mariners' African Guide, London, 

Credit was evidently allowed from the first intercourse with Europeans. 
Windam mentions that the king offered him credit, and Dapper informs us " The 
Portuguese formerly always sold to them on credit, but the Dutch have never liked 
to do so. In the beginning, this did not suit the natives, but now it has been made 
customary, so the natives bring their slaves as they come to fetch the merchandise." 
However, this may be, Nyendael complains very much of the long credit which had 
to be given. He says : " The worst of all is, that the native traders are very tedious 
in dealing. Many times they have a stock of elephants' tusks by them, for which we 
have generally to wait eight or ten days before we can agree upon a price with them ; 
but this is managed with so many ceremonious civilities, that it is impossible to be 
angry with them. Another inconvenience, which really deserves complaint is, that 
on our arrival here, we are obliged to trust them with goods to make paans or clothes 
of ; for the payment of which we frequently stay so long, that, on account of the 
advance of the season, the consumption of our provisions, and the sickness or 
mortality of our men, we are obliged to depart without our money ; but on the other 
hand, the next time we come hither, we are sure to be honestly paid the whole." 
The credit system is spoken of by Roupell's officials and is still in vogue. 

Perhaps the best testimony to the trading instinct of the African native is his 
adoption of a standard of value for exchange purposes, and by which, as we have 
seen above, all trade was regulated. In Benin this standard was the pawn. The 
origin or meaning of the word is doubtful. Burton thought that it probably was a 
" corruption of the old French pagne, a loincloth," but Nyendael mentions the word 
panen or clothes, and that was before the advent of the French. Landolphe speaks 
of pagnes, and the French dictionaries I have consulted explain it as the name of an 
Indian loincloth. Capt. Hugh Crow describes it, using the word paan, on one 
occasion as a sash which serves for a waistcloth, and on another occasion as a mantle 
(Memoirs, London, 1830, pp. 192 and 275). Although a standard, the purchasing 
price of the pawn evidently and naturally varied. Landolphe put it at two francs 
(one shilling and eightpence), at a bar in Bonny, or two shillings and sixpence, while 
Burton gives the following tariff, which is, however, not clear. 

250 cowries = i pawn, i.e., 3d. to 6d. 
1250 ,, = I cloth, i.e., 
18000 ,, =1 bag. 
In 1840, the pawn was worth from 2/- to 3/-. On this Mr. Punch remarks : 
" Pagnes v. Pawns : I think there is some confusion here. Pagne which is prob- 

1^6 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvovs. 

ably from the Portuguese pano became later pangs, which is the name of the red and 
blue country cloth mixed with silk, imitations of which were introduced from Man- 
chester but were not equal to the native made article. Paivn I should perhaps trace 
to pahna, the palm of the hand. It was the name for a hand of tobacco = 5 heads ; 
2;V pawns=i2 heads of tobacco=i pang of cloth." 

Frequent references have been made to the use of cowries as a medium of exchange. 
As Welsh has it, " Their m.oney is pretie white shels, for golde and silver we saw 
none." Dapper likewise mentioned them, and Lieut. Bold says : " The small 
East-India shell, or cowry, constitutes the currency of the country." In Adams' 
time the cowrie shells were "brought to Europe from the Maldive Islands, in the 
East Indies, and are always in great demand at Wydah, Ardrah and Lagos, at which 
places they are not only the medium of exchange, but from whence they are also sent 
to Dahomey, Hio [? Eyo] , Housa, Jaboo, and into the very heart of North Africa, 
where it is known they are the circulating currency."^ From a further remark he 
makes it would appear that in his time there was no demand for them in Bonny, 
Calabar, Camerons, or the Congo. He says they sell in England from £^0 to /"So 
per ton. This was about eighty years ago. (pp. 263-4). ^'^^- C- Punch informs me 
that in his time Messrs. Stuart & Douglas used to bring them in shiploads from the 
Malabar Coast and East Africa to Benin river and Lagos.^ Cowries were, however, 
not used merely as a currency, but found a place in adorning the mud walls of the 
houses, and were made up into a variety of objects. 


The records of any real industry beyond weaving and mat making are meagre, 
and if we had not proofs in the wood and ivory carvings and in the bronze castings, 
we should have a poor opinion of the people in so far as their success in the arts and 
crafts are concerned. Nyendael states that of the people very few are " laborious or 
industrious, unless it be those who are wretchedly poor ; the others laying the whole 
burthen of their work on their wives and slaves, whether it be tilling the ground, 
spinning of cotton, weaving of cloths, or any other handicraft ; whilst they, if they 
have but the least stock, apply themselves to merchanting alone." According to this 
traveller, " There are very few manual arts practised or understood here besides weaving. 
The chief workmen here are either smiths, carpenters, or leather dressers ; but all 
their workmanship is so very crude that a boy who has been one month learning in 
Europe would outdo them." On the other hand, the records contain numerous 
references to the cloths and mats made by the Bini. Welsh relates, " they have a 
great store of cotton growing," and speaks of the " pretie fine mats that they make." 
Indeed the mat making and cloth weaving industries were by no means small. D. R. 
talks of " also much thread spun from cotton, of which they make their clothes 
similar to those on the Gold Coast, but lighter and finer." Dapper tells us, " cotton 

1 In a note in " Nature " on the discovery of African money cowrie [Cypraa moncta) in the barrow 
caves of Pomerania. it is stated some 27 were found "in an earthen vase mixed with earth and sand, 
each one being notched so as to permit its being arranged with others upon a string. Wagner is of 
opinion that these shells must have been brought by the Phosnicians for the purpose of bartering 
with the people for amber. A closely allied species, C. panthevina, was found in graves in Swabia, 
which could not in any way be associated with Phoenicians. Jeitteles also mentions the occurrence 
among certain prehistoric objects found near Olmutz, of a coral from the Indian Ocean found very 
rarely in the Mediterranean." 

2 " The Jekri word for Cowrie is Ogo; the Yoruba word Owo, which also means our word money; 
an engineer friend from Brazil tells me the negroes used to say Oivo host, which is Yoruba for ' There 
is no money ' " (C.P.) 

Trade, Industry, S'C. 141 

grows everywhere in great abundance, and very well. The natives make cloth out of it." 
Similar evidence is given by Nyendael : " That a large quantity of cotton bushes 
must grow here you may reasonably conjecture when I tell you that not only all the 
inhabitants are clothed with it, but they annually export thousands of woven clothes 
to other places." According to Landolphe : " Few houses are to be seen without a 
cotton spinning machine, or a frame for making admirable cotton or straw rugs (mats). 
This loom, similar to that of our weavers, is however perpendicular instead of being 
horizontal like the latter." (II., p. 49). Lieut. King mentions mats and woollen [szV] 
stuffs made in the country spread over the bench, round the wall, and on the ground, 
during his interview with the king. 

Fawckner (p. 36) at Yarcella, on his way to Benin, speaks of " a large hall hung 
with the most superb cloths of the country, like tapestry." He also says, "the 
women appear to be very clever at weaving by hand mats of a fibrous wood." From 
Moffatt and Smith we gather that cotton is indigenous in Benin, and is spun there and 
woven into cloth by women. 

Burton mentions (p. 409) that " they make their own cottons, and are independent 
of Manchester." Elsewhere (p. 415) he refers to "large Benin pipes, and fine cotton 
work, open and decorated with red worsted — a work confined to the ladies of the 

That the Benin cloth must have had considerable value we may conclude from a 
remark of Captain Crow, who, as a bribe, was once offered by King Pepple of Bonny 
a " beautiful Benin cloth," after Crow had refused to accept a tusk weighing over one 
hundred pounds (p. 97). Labarthe, while speaking of the Wydah cloths, mentions 
parenthetically that those of Benin are more beautiful (p. 159). What specially 
beautiful cloths are referred to by Crow and Labarthe it is not now possible to 
ascertain, but possibly they may refer to the needlework tapestry about which Mr. C. 
Punch writes me that " they were in pieces perhaps six feet long or more, with life 
sized figures worked with a needle on the open work cotton material. They were 
made by the king's ' boys.' " 

" The above-mentioned pieces of cloth, called by the natives mouponoqua} and by 
the Europeans Benin-cloth, are of cotton, blue throughout, or alternate white and blue, 
made of four strips sewn together lengthwise, two ells and a half, and two ells and 
three-quarters long, with a complete breadth of two ells.^ There are also small pieces 
of cloth, being in size about one-third of a large one, and called by them mnhasis. 
All these pieces of cloth are either made there or elsewhere and brought there for 
sale." (Dapper). Landolphe received some " beautifully native-made cotton mats 
and pagnes, made of very fine grasses. The work of the mats surprised me 
considerably, quite as much by the beautiful colours as by the regularity of the weft. 
They were of three sizes, each a third of an ell wide and eight feet long. The 
nankeen coloured grass mats, almost equalling silk in fineness, consisted of four 
strips, each a third of an ell broad and eight or nine feet long" (I., p. 121). On 
another occasion he says, " their pagnes have a breadth of an ell and a third," so that 
if the travellers are correct in their measurements the cloths must have been made 
of various sizes. As to the dyeing, " the inhabitants are very well skilled in making 
several sorts of dyes, as green, blue, black, red and yellow. The blue they prepare 
from indigo, which grows here abundantly ; but the remaining colours are extracted 

1 '• The word Oupon (cloth) is in use by the Bini at the present day " (C. P.) 

2 Ogilby omits this. 

( . 


Great Benin — 7/5 Customs, Art and Horrors. 



from certain trees by friction and decoction." (Nyendael). According to Beauvais 
(Flore II., p. 44) it is probably "with the colouring matter of the Indigofera ende- 
caphylla that the natives dye their cotton," and Landolphe adds, " they are fast-dyed 
in various colours, abundantly produced in the country." (II., p. 49). Mr. Punch, 
however, tells me the "Benin indigo dye is from the same plant as that in the Lagos 
country, which is not Indigofera sp. but Lonchocavpus seviceiis. Several trees are burnt 
to get a salt for fixing the country dyes, in Lagos especially were used Arere, an un- 
named species of Stercuiia, Akika (Spondias lutea), Mangrove and others, especially 
several species of Albizzia. For their mats the "natives of Warri and Benin make 
use of the Hypoelytrum nemonim, as they do of various galingales (Cy penis), to manu- 
facture thread. Their mode of doing this is very simple ; they twist the fibres by 
rolling them on their knees several times until the fibres remain twisted without 
untwisting themselves." Beauvais (Flore II., p. 13). 

According to Roupell's officials, King Osogboa is credited with discovering salt 
in the Jekri country. The salt is much prized, and for cooking yams is preferred to 

European salt. It is obtained by burning the 
young branches of the salt bush which grows near 
salt water, the rain washes the ashes, which are 
collected and washed again. The country famous 
for this salt bush is what was formerly owned by 
chief Nana of Brohoemi ; there is considerable com- 
petition among the Benin river chiefs for this land, 
as its possession means a valuable monopoly. 
Fawckner on his way from the coast to Benin (p. 23) 
did not see the process of making salt, " but remarked 
a quantity of baskets formed from the rind of the 
bamboo, which were suspended over earthen vessels 
or calabashes. They contained sand and dirty 
water, which filtered through into the calabash 
below. I concluded from this that they were not 
able to get pure salt water, as the water near the 
shore, in consequence of the constant surf, becomes 
very foul and muddy." Salt making or obtaining 
is, however, a fairly common industry. x\dams, 
who says salt is a medium of exchange (p. 116), 
mentions the industry (p. 118), but the exact 
locality he describes is not clear, perhaps it 
would appear to be in the Ijo country. " On the west head of the river, 
as well as on the opposite shore a number of huts have been erected, where 
salt is made from sea water. At full tide, the sea approaches very near 
to these huts, at which time the natives fill the vessels, composed chiefly of 
earthenware of native manufacture, with salt water, and evaporate it by the fire. 
Some of the salt made in this way is very good, but a large portion of it is a bad 
colour, and sandy./ At Warri, he tells us slaves are sold for large brass pans 
called neptunes, and " these neptunes are used, during the dry season, by the Creek 
and surrounding country people, for the purpose of evaporating sea- water to obtain 
its salt, which is here the medium of exchange, and a great trade is carried on in this 
article with the interior country" (p. 122). Burton, on the Tebbu river, met with a 
settlement where the principal industry seemed to be " the collecting of salt from 

Fig. 147. Bronze plaque show- 
ing individuals carrying man- 
illas in their hands: these 
articles have, however, long 
ceased to exist as currency or 
as an article of trade in Benin. 
British Museum. 

Trade, Industry, S'C. 143 

mangrove ashes, strained, boiled in iron cauldrons, and stored in large baskets of 
bamboo splints. Before use, it is evaporated in earthen pots till crystals develop 
themselves. The taste is offensively bitter, like bad gunpowder ; still the people put 
up with it " (p. 274). The following is Mr. C. Punch's account of salt making. 
" The salt was m,ade from the salt bush [Avicennia sp.) It is often taken for man- 
grove. When the mangrove is cut down, the avicennia grows, but the Jekri, 
especially Nana's people, used to plant out sets. It is called white mangrove in 
Brazil, but it is no mangrove [RhizopJiora sp.). The avicennia bushes are cut in the 
dry season, December and January, ashes collected, and put in the large wicker cone- 
shaped baskets described, and water allowed to filter through. The water with the salt 
in solution is then boiled in earthen pots, and the salt precipitated forms blocks shaped 
like the earthen pots. These are broken up and filled into the long thin baskets, 
made from the split leaves of the Pandanus or screw pine. These long baskets are, 
or were, the salt measure for trade in Benin, and I met them again last year as far 
north as the Idanre mountains in the Lagos Colony." 

So far back as Welch's time soap was in use : " They have a good store of sope 
and it smelleth like beaten violets." So too Nyendael : " The negroes here make 
soap, which is better than that all over Guinea ; and as this washes very well, the 
negroes clothes are very clean. You know it is made upon the Gold Coast with 
^palm oil, banana leaves, and the ashes of a sort of wood. The manner of making it 
here differs very little." 

Amongst exports, Landolphe (I., pp. 51, 10 1) speaks of red, blue, violet and 
yellow woods, copal and palm oil, besides, of course, slaves, ivory and cotton cloths 
or mats {tapis). Of the coloured woods he adds, " I have spoken of red, blue, violet 
and yellow woods ; but when they are cut they are all white, like ordinary timber; it is 
only when placed in water that their brilliant and fast colours are to be seen." (II., p. 71). 

Landolphe reported the existence of gold mines in Benin, but states, " no one is 
allowed to touch them under pain of death, for fear lest Europeans should in their 
avarice bring fire and sword as they did into Peru." (II., p. 71). 


" The cultivation of the farms was of the usual 'go as you please ' style preva- 
lent in West Africa. The slaves found their own food, and had certain days in the 
week as their own time to work at their own farms. There is a recognised task for 
slave work, viz. : 200 yam heaps of 3 feet by 3 feet to be weeded in a day, and the 
word igha ( = 200) is fast becoming a land measure, just as our measure called furlong 
originated in a day's work of ploughing." (C. Punch). 

The frequent references to pepper call for some comment, D.R. calls it manigette 
pepper, the common negro name being alligator pepper, but it is a spice not a pepper 
and is related to the Cardamums. There are three genera of Scitamincae very 
similar in appearance, whose fruits are used by the natives. The Amomum paradisici 
is the pepper or spice of the old chroniclers, and one species is sucked by the natives 
for the sake of the sweet tasting mucilage surrounding the seed. The commonly 
distributed Sola fnicticosiun, often said to be the original pepper of the Portuguese, 
is introduced. 


Fawckner mentions (p. 49) " Wicker fish pots fastened to the bank of the river 
for catching prawns or shrimps. At high tide the water overflowed them, and thus 

144 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

the fish became taken, which, after being smoked were sent to Benin market." 
According to Burton, " the mouth of every Httle creek shews a weir or a crate. In 
the months of August and September, when the rains are heaviest, old wives may 
be seen fishing with bamboo baskets. The fry is sun-dried or smoked, packed in 
panniers, and sent up the country to fetch a profit of 200 per cent " (p. 144). See 
pp. 134 and 136, supra. 

Fishing was not practiced by the Bini. It was against their fetish to go on big 
water, and the fishing was left to the Ijos and Jekries. In the Egba country fishing 
grounds are owned ; reaches of the Ogun are family property, following the usual 
customs of inheritance, but although, as far as I could learn, they could not be sold; 
they could be and often were pawned. The proprietary rights only covered the 
annual big fishing, when the piece of water was rounded up with bamboo nets and 
the fish were stupified by means of a certain fruit, and all the family lent a hand and 
shared in the take. Fishing by line was open to all, and pools in the forest left 
from high water were also common to all" (C. Punch). 


" The elephant hunters were a special class and were highly esteemed. Elephants 
were shot with poisoned darts fired from the ordinary " Long Dane " gun. The poison 
was carried in long-necked gourds, and the darts were kept in the poison until the 
moment of firing. The poison was made from seeds of Strophanthiis mixed with 
other things. It was not immediately fatal, though a mere scratch was sufficient to 
kill eventually. The wounded animal was tracked for two or three days till it fell. 
The tooth which first touched ground was king's property, the other belonged to the 
hunter, but the king could buy it at his own price. The elephants were in herds, 
which visited different parts of the country at intervals. While I was at Guatun 
a herd came into the neighbouring forest, but there had been none in that part for 
more than three years ; news of their arrival was carried to the king, and he sent two 
hunters to Guatun to hunt. They remained for about ten days at Guatun, being 
feasted, and also performing many ceremonies. Eventually one small elephant was 
killed in the forest about five miles from Gwato ; the tusks were taken to Benin and 
the meat was consumed in Gwato for some time after. The herd then moved on and 
the hunters went away. Last year I met an old hunter named Gangan on the 
Ofosho river not far from Benin. I spent some time in the forest with him and had 
long talks with him. He claimed to have been at one time a hunter of elephants for 
the King of Benin and to have killed with his Long Dane 200 elephants. He was 
certainly very expert at his work. He said it was quite impossible for him to be 
really lost in the forest, and that he could easily go four or five days in the forest 
without taking any food. He could live on certain of the fruits and roots, and showed 
me some of the fruits which he said would support life. We were making our way 
through the forest and he suddenly stopped short and said Guinea fowl were close. 
He dived off into the forest, and almost immediately I heard his gun and he returned 
with a Guinea fowl. Then he showed me a plant with red berries, some of which, 
fallen on the ground, showed him that Guinea fowl had been interrupted feeding 
After this he went off by himself and I heard him calling the birds. They answered 
and he finally bagged another. In the same way the hunters have a call for the 
deer, though I believe they are not properly deer. As a rule the hunters 
trust more to poaching than to fair sport. They clear a space in a part where 

Trade, Industry, S'C. 145 

they see the animals' tracks and spread the fruits of the raphia palm and other 
fruits liked by the animals. Then they construct a place for themselves to sit 
overlooking the spot. They erect a small scaffold on a tree, something like a 
saddle-tree, and sit astride on moonlit nights waiting for the game. From their 
seats they can see and shoot in either direction, and simply poach the beasts as 
they feed. The Jekri and Sobos arrange big drives. They select a spot where a 
river forms a loop and throw a line of beaters across the neck, and then beat down 
to the river while other sportsmen in canoes wait for the beasts. They have very 
good hunting dogs, which, however, do not retrieve. The Egbas in the open country 
organise big drives with beaters and dogs. The hunters are a privileged class, and 
the Yorubas have a saying that the towns and farms belong to the chiefs but the 
forest belongs to the hunters. They are a distinct professional class, and are used 
by the chiefs as soldiers and police. A boy is apprenticed to a hunter and learns the 
business. The hunter teaches him woodcraft, how to find his way about, etc. The 
hunters have also rites and fetishes, which are supposed to make them invisible to 
the animals and also to preserve them from being lost. In making their way through 
the forest they cut small twigs as they pass, bending the half-cut twig in certain ways 
to denote directions, so that they know if they are traversing the same ground. 
The guns, as one may suppose, are covered with charms. A hunter will never, 
if he can help it, sell the head and lights and heart. They use them for fetish 
purposes connected with their profession" (C. Punch). 

Fig. 148. — Tray used by the Bini market women. From a sketch by Mr. C. Punch. 
The body was made of pieces of the midrib of the raphia palm, and the sides composed of 
stout pieces of Calamus. The sides were movable and could be turned down flat on top. 
The raphia midribs were kept in position by pieces of harder outside layers driven 
right through. These trays were carried by the women on their heads. 

























































o o 












Variety of fruits — Milbio — Potatoes and Yams — Beans — Rice — Fertile Soil— Maize or Guinea 
Corn — Meats and fish of rich and poor- -Salt fish — Cray fish — Kola nut — Fu fu — • 
Monkey's flesh — Horses, poultry, dogs, donkeys, sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle eaten — 
Small breed of horses — Why horses do not thrive— Palm Wine — Vino de Palm and Vino 
de Bordon — Milbio Beer — Accidents in obtaining the palm wine — Water from Oboba 

" They have many excellent fruits," says D.R., " upon which they live well, 
such as yams, batatas, bananas, pomegranates, lemons, &c." Dapper too found 
" here nearly all sorts of fruit, also oranges and lemons, especially on the road 
between Gotton and the town of Benin. They grow in this country a kind of 
pepper, called by the Dutch Benin pepper, but there is no great abundance of it. It 
grows just like the East Indian pepper, but its grain is smaller." This pepper, as 
we have seen, is, however, not the same as the East Indian variety, but a Carda- 
mum. According to Nyendael, " The fruits of the earth are corn, or great milbio; 
for they have none of the small sort. The large milbio is here cheap, but they do 
not esteem it ; consequently little is sown, which nevertheless yields an enormous 
quantity of grain, and grows very luxuriantly. Potatoes [? sweet potatoes] are 
scarce, but there is great abundance of yams which forms their main diet. They eat 
them instead of bread with all sorts of food, so that they are very careful that this 
fruit be planted and gathered in its proper season. There are two sorts of beans, 
both of which are very like horse-beans. They are of a hot disagreeable taste, and 
are unwholesome. I never saw any rice here, nor do I believe any grows in Benin, 
although the swampy land near the river seems very suitable for its growth. The 
arboriferous fruits of Benin are of two sorts of coco-nuts, cormantyn-apples, 
paquovens, bananas, wild figs, and some others, which are peculiar to this part 
of the country, and have nothing extraordinary about them. The soil at some 
distance from the river, is extraordinarily fertile ; and whatever is planted or sown 
there grows very well and yields a rich crop. But close by the river the land is not 
good, for although what is sown comes up, yet the close proximity of the moisture 
from the river kills it." 

" There is a question as to whether Nyendael, speaking of great milbio, refers to 
Indian corn (maize) or millet (Guinea corn). The cultivation of these two is local, 
but broadly speaking, maize is grown on cleared forest land while millet thrives best 
in open country. Benin is at present mostly forest, but owing to the slow decay of 
the city the surrounding country may now be covered with forest while formerly it 
was more open." (C. Punch.) 

" Generally speaking, the natives, if possessed of any riches, eat and drink very 
well ; that is to say, of the best. The common diet of the rich is beef, mutton, or 

148 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

chicken, with yams, which take the place of bread ; these they boil and beat very 
fine in order to make cakes of them. They frequently treat one another, and distri- 
bute a portion of their over-abundance to the needy" (Nyendael). The meaner people, 
whose bread is also yams, bananas, and beans, eat fish (ibid). 

Dapper, while referring to crocodiles, hippopotami, and electrical fish, presumably 
in Benin River,^ remarks that there are also many edible and palatable fish, but 
Nyendael says the upper part of the river " is not well stocked with fish ; all 
that they eat here coming from a place called Boca de la Mare, or the mouth of the 
sea, where they are dried and smoked ; but most of it, not being salted, tastes nasty 
and stinks abominably." He also tells us that the meaner sort of people content 
" themselves with smoked or dried fish, which, if salted, is very like what we in 
Europe call m/ or reeked'' [? smoked] . "At Gwato there are excellent crayfish." 
(C. Punch). 

" i\part from its ceremonial use, Stevculia acuminata — kola nut, is eaten by the 
blacks in order to make taste as nice whatever is eaten or drunk after eating of the 
nut, the effects of which are quickly dissipated ; bad water especially tastes sweet 
after partaking of kola nut " Beauvais (Flore). 

Fawckner (p. 36) on one occasion speaks of a " quantity of bowls, containing 
' fu-fu,' a sort of dumpling, made of pounded yams. This ' fu-fu ' they eat with a 
rich soup made from the fore legs of monkeys, and occasionally with fish. It is 
esteemed by them a dainty dish ; but being so highly seasoned with their strong 
pepper, few Europeans can touch it." He also tells us a quantity of monkeys' flesh 
attracted his " attention, from the paws and nails which were exposed ; and dogs, 
goats, and sheep were here in abundance." (p. 84). Elsewhere (p. 34) he speaks of 
boiled fowls and yams served in a wash-hand bason, when shells were used for 
spoons. Dapper speaks "of horses, poultry, donkeys, goats, sheep having no wool 
but hair on their bodies, standing on long legs, and affording good meat." " The 
land about the town of Benin is fertile, although but little of it is cultivated. Sheep, 
goats, pigs, poultry, and yams are plentiful and cheap. There is here also a breed of 
small cattle." (Adams). And the Punitive Expedition found plenty of "an excellent 
class of beast, black and white, smaller than our English cattle, but compact, with 
deep set short horns, which was excellent meat." (Bacon, p. 97). 


D.R. tells us " Their horses are, however, very small, and not much larger than 
our calves at home, which is the reason that our horses are so much honoured and 
esteemed." Fawckner perceived near the market " Three fine horses grazing, and, 
it being rather an unusual sight, I enquired to whom they belonged ; I was answered 
that they were the king's ; but they had not been ridden for some time, and the 
natives were now afraid to mount them " (p. 86). Burton, however, did not see a 
single horse ; all were absent at the wars. They are described as a good but 

1 "At Warri the land is very barren and devoid of grass, but affords much fruit, cocoanuts, bitter 
and sweet oranges, year after year, besides other trees and vegetables. There is also pepper as in 
Benin, but in small quantities because it is not much cultivated. Bananas are largely grown, and 
the natives also plant mandihoka (manioc) of which they make Farinha (meal) to make their bread 
with. On account of the poor pasture lands there are no beasts of burden such as horses or cows ; 
but on the other hand much poultry of a big sort, which the natives roast very well, basting it with 
its own fat mixed with the yolk of an egg. Fish can be got in relative abundance, sometimes also 
sea-cows, which have a good flavour" (Dapper). 

Food, Domestic Animals, Fermented Drinks, Water. 149 

small breed, about fourteen hands high, something between the pony of Lagos and 
the large war charger of Yoruba (p. 411). "As a matter of fact natives would not 
keep horses in Benin, as it is in the forest belt where the poisonous afon tree (an 
artocarp) is plentiful. Only Europeans or natives under European influence would 
try to keep horses in such a district. Perhaps long ago Benin was not in the forest " 
(C. Punch). 


" The palm wine is indeed very delicious and good to drink. There are two 
sorts of sour palm wine, namely, Vino de Palm and Vino de Bordon. The former 
they drink in the morning and say it is then good for one's health, the latter, how- 
ever, they drink in the evening, as they consider it better for health to drink it at 
night than in the morning" (D.R.) According to Nyendael the people 
" drink water, and pardon-wine, which is none of the best. The richer sort drink 
water, and brandy when they can get it." He also says " They sometimes employ 
the Ardra women to brew beer with the milbio ; but it proves disagreeable and hot." 
Fawckner on his way to Benin, speaking of a palm says, "If this tree be tapped at 
the head, and a jar applied, it yields the bamboo wine ; a very pleasing drink similar 
to our English ginger beer (p. 24), and later, " bamboo wine was brought to refresh 
and cheer us. It is by no means an unpleasant beverage, and produces intoxication 
like other wines if taken to excess. It ferments quickly but will not keep longer 
than twelve hours, the Portuguese often employ it as a yeast in making their bread" 
(p. 29). The bambu wine is obtained from the Raphia vinifeva, about which Beauvais tells 
us " a gridelin coloured liquid is extracted called Bourdon wine, not so soft as that 
from ordinary palm wine but more vinous and containing more spirit ; easier to get, 
as accidents occur from breaking the girdle ropes used in climbing the wine palm. 
A strong spirit is made from the fruit, gathered every month of the year, by ferment- 
ing the kernels ; this spirit is more coloured, more tasty, and keeps longer " {Flore d'O. 
etde B.). Burton considered the Benin palm wine too tart, and not equal to that of Gwato. 


Landolphe found that " to get good clear water one must fetch it from a little 
river, a quarter of a league distant from the city ; the negroes only drink bad water, 
which they scoop out of pits " (I., p. 333). The Punitive Expedition found the same 
difficulty in having to fetch water from this creek. 


Fig. 150 —Group of natives on road to Benin, From a photo- 
graph taken by Mr. C. Punch, Feb. 1891. 


Native remedies — Want of respect for native doctors — Pahiia cJiristi — Priest versus native doctor 
— A noted doctor — Salve for wounds — Varied but unknown pharmacopia. 

" The negroes of this country," says Nyendael, " do not seem so much afraid of 
death as in other countries ; they are not uneasy at the naming of it, and ascribe the 
length or brevity of Hfe to their gods. Notwithstanding which, they are very zealous 
in the use of those means which are thought proper for the prolongation of life ; for 
if they fall sick, the first refuge is the priest, who here, as well as on the Gold Coast, 
acts the doctor. He first administers green herbs, which proving ineffective, he has 
recourse to sacriiices. If the patient recover, the priest is held in high esteem, but 
if not, he is dismissed, and another, from whom better success is expected, is called 
in. If these sacerdotal doctors happen to cure the patient, they are very much 
reverenced ; but the sick person is no sooner perfectly recovered, than they are 
discharged without any respect. So that if the priests here have no other means of 
subsistance, they are generally poor, because each particular person offers his own 
sacrifices, and performs the service of his idols, without giving them any manner of 

Landolphe tells us that on one occasion one of the blacks cured some others 
of dropsy by giving them to drink three seeds of Palma christi reduced to powder and 
infused in a glass of cold water for twenty-four hours and strained. The swelling 
subsided at the end of the sixth or seventh day by a violent purging. (II., p. 66). 

Roupell's officials distinguish between priest and medical man thus : " Jujuman 
and doctor are different ; for instance, if a man is sick from juju, i.e. bewitched, and 
he consults a jujuman, if he is indeed sick of a juju, the jujuman can know and can 
cure him, but if not he recommends him to consult the doctor. But a doctor is 
higher in the social scale than a jujuman. There is no head man of doctors; each 
practices independently, but there is a noted man in the village of Bohimi, near Ora, 
in Itchan part — he was frequently consulted by Overami as to what should be done 
to avert sickness." 

Beauvais mentions {Flore d'O. et de B.) that the braised leaves of the Struchium 
africannm is put on to wounds, but is not very efficacious. 

Mr. Punch is of opinion that the Bini possess a varied pharmacopia both for 
poisons and remedies, but unfortunately we know nothing about them. 

Fig. 151. — Carved wood drum, from the north-west corner of Benin territory. The goat 
skin cover is ingeniously fixed on by means of tag-ends, greenhide thongs, and pegs. The 
figure possesses head, upper part of chest, and arms only; there is no body nor are there 
any legs. Instead of the snake emerging from the body as legs, the snake is here quite 
independent of the figure and headless. Height 34^ in. (877 cm.) In the possession of Mr. 
Graham Nicholas, The Bowers, Barkisland, Halifax. 


Music — Drums — Tusk horns— Awful discords — Music of Noblemen's retinues — Game bag music 
— Calabash noises — Harp — Dancing — Monotonous chants. Games — Warri or Mancala — 
Children's games. 

" Their musical instruments chiefly consist in large and small drums, not very 
different from those of the Gold Coast. They are shaped like them, covered with 
leather or skins, and beaten in the same manner as they are." D.R. speaks of 
drums on several occasions. Beauvais at a feast mentions some musicians who 
" drummed on copper cauldrons " ; while Landolphe at a Court function says there 
were " twelve enormous drums, seven feet long, made of hollow bambu covered with 
goat skin at one end, which gave forth a rumbling noise under the strokes of small 
drum sticks. These lugubrious sounds were joined to those of a dozen blacks, some 
of whom blew like madmen into elephant tusks, which were perforated at intervals 
like our church serpents, whilst others did not succeed much better with cowherd 
horns. The result was an awful discord which one must have heard to appreciate." 
(I., p. 114). Beauvais also speaks of a suite "of several musicians, some whistling 
in a sort of extended cornet, others in flutes faulty and discordant." According to 
D.R., in going to court, the noblemen's retinues were " blowing horns and whistles, 
some have a hollow iron whereon they strike," and again, " their men have special 
instruments like the game bags with which men in our country go to fish market ; 
this net is filled with various things, and when they strike upon it with their hands, 
it rattles just as if a heap of walnuts were inside and were struck with the hands." 
(fig. 103). Nyendael refers to a sort of " iron bells on which they play ; also calabashes 
hung round with cowries, which serve them instead of castagnets ; all which together 
afford a very disagreeable and jarring sound. Besides these, they have also an 
instrument, which must needs be called a harp ; it is strung with six or seven 
extended reeds, upon which they play and sing so well, and dance to such good time, 
that it is very pleasant to see it. These are indeed the best dancers I ever saw 
amongst the negroes. The natives of Axim, in their annual feast, when they drive 
out the devil, have much the same sort of a dance, though neither so fine, nor nearly 
so diverting as this." (Nyendael). 

Adams seems to have been specially honoured. He says : " There are in Benin 
a number of itinerant dancing-women, who were sent to amuse me, and whose per- 
formance before the house constantly attracted a crowd of persons of both sexes, 
who conducted themselves with great decorum during the exhibition. The ladies 
danced in the fandango style, perhaps not quite so modestly as our fashionable belles, 
although more in character, by holding in their hands excellent substitutes for cas- 
tanets, with which they kept time admirably. These consisted of small hollow 
gourds, over which are spread nets, having small pease strung on the sides of the 
meshes. Holes at the top receive the fore-fingers of their right hands, with which 


i^_|. Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

the gourds were shaken, and occasionally struck against the palms of their left 
hands, beating responses to the tunes sung by the dancers." (p. 115). At a human 
sacrifice Beauvais heard " a plaintive and monotonous chant by the people, who 
accompanied by rubbing their hands, or rather beating them together." 

Fig. 152, — Lappets of the skin 
to show method of fixing, 

Fig. 153 — Greenhide thongs to 
assist in keeping the skins taut, 

Fig. 154. — To show complete elaboration of the headless snake. 

The natives " are not at all addicted to plays. There are no other games than 
those played with beans, and those only for diversion and pastime, but never for 
money." (Nyendael). He evidently refers to the well-known game called Warri in 
Yoruba, whicli, as it has been well described, need not be further referred to here. 


Music and Camcs. 155 

(See Stewart Culin, Mancala, the National Game of Africa, Rep. U. S. Nat. 
Mus. for 1894, PP- 595"6o7)- "The children played a game with the f^at 
seeds of a species of phaseolus not far related from Physostyma vcnenosa. The ground 
was marked out into compartments, and the beans, thrown witli force in a certain 
way, lodged in the compartment driving out the opponent's beans" (C. Punch). 


Fig. 155. — Bronze plaque repre- 
senting a crocodile's head. Height 
i8i X 7^ in. (47 X 19 cm.) Bank- 
field Museum, Halifax. 

Fig. 156. — Bronze plaque of a nati\e 
adorned with armlets and curious method 
of hair-dressing. Height 20 x 7^ in. 
(50 x iQ cm.) Bankfield Museum, Halifax. 






















































D.R.'s description — Long streets — Dismantled houses — The broad street identified (158) — High bul- 
warks — Ditch — Gates — Houses in good order — Arrangement of houses — Daylight comes in 
at roof — Walls — King's compound — Windam's description (160) — Roof of thin boards — Palm 
leaf roof — Dapper's description (160) — The town wall — The morass — City gates — King's com- 
pound — Magnificent buildings — Cast copper decorations — Roof of palm leaves — Straight 
and broad streets — Houses — Smooth walls — Comparison between D.R's. and Dapper's des- 
criptions — Nyendael's account (162) — Half in ruins — No stone buildings — Description of the king's 
court — Gallery of wooden pillars — Gateway covered with a turret — Copper snake — Second 
gallery in ruins — Carved human figures — Tusks on human copper heads — Audience chamber 
— Tusks on ivory pedestals— Turrets — Barbot's account (163) — Legroing's account — Shingle roofs 
— Landolphe's account — The ditch — Thorny hedge — Sandy walk — Thatching — Ingenious 
roof work — Adams' account (164) — Irregularly built — Women's apartments — Lieut. King's account 
— Depopulation by civil war — Streets, houses, roofs — Divan round inner walls — Mats — 
King's palace — Tusks — Pyramid and copper serpent (165) — Designs on ceiling beams — Fawckner's 
account — Polished walls — Halls — Open roofs — Water drainage (166) — Beds — Fires in rainy 
season — Doors — King's palace of wood — Tower or steeple — Burton's account (167) — Gwato 
houses — Resembling brickwork — Roofing — Human skull — Mezzo-relievo figures — Roman archi- 
tecture — Curious courts — Water drainage (168) — Chief's house — Bird images — King's court (169) 
— 15,000 inhabitants — Gateway — Sacrificial tree and victims — Brass lamp — Carved ivories — 
Clean roads — Foul pits — Ruins — Fetish house — Victims' well — Tclamones — Throne settle — 
Dr. Henry's account — Gallwey's visit (171) — Uncanny alcoves — Impression of a hand — Thatched 
roofs — Number of ruins — King's quarters — Carved tusks — Punitive Expedition report — The 
approach — King's and juju compounds — Altars — Bronze heads and tusks — Smell of human 
blood — Sacrifices — Fetish offerings — Palaver house (172) — Bronze snake — Carved beams — 
Embossed brass — King's house — Crucifixion trees — Water path — Decomposing bodies — Bacon's 
description(i73) — Straggling town — Ochudi's compound — Sacrificial places — Altar— Tusks — Gal- 
vanised iron roof — Bronze serpent — Stamped brass (174) — King's house — Looking glass — Burial 
places of nobles — Watering place — Crucifixion tree (175) — Burial place of the people — City not 
without beauty — Blacksmiths' shops — Roth's description (175) — High wall — Brass sheeting — Pits 
— Brass heads and tusks — Altar objects — Blood and smell — Palaver house and snake — 
Muntz metal sheets (176) — Bronze pillars — King's chests (177) -The king's house — Doors and ivory 
catch — Roofing — Bench or bank along wall — Closets and kitchens — Framework of roof (178) — 
Various views (180) — Comparison with Ese Ado — How clay is worked (181) — Comparison with Old 
Calabar — Limits of Yoruba architecture (182) — No connection with western Sudan — Origin of 
the open courts — Gold Coast buildings (184) — Punch's detailed description of a house (187) — 
General arrangement — Drains, how made — Alcoves and store rooms — Locks (i8g) — Towers — 
I^yramids or turrets originally over door-ways. The Ditch — Its excavation ascribed to 
Oguola— Other ditches. 

For the earliest description of the buildings of the city we must go to D.R., who 
says: "At first the town seems very large; when one enters it one comes at once 
into a great broad street, which appears to be seven or eight times broader than the 
Warme Street in Amsterdam ; this extends straight out, and when one has walked a 
quarter of an hour along it he still does not see the end of the street, but he sees a 

158 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

big tall tree as far from him as the eyes can reach, and some Netherlanders say that 
the street stretches still so much further, that if one had been as far as that tree he 
would still see no end to the street; but he could perceive that the houses thereabouts 
are much smaller than those first seen, and that the further one goes one notices 
houses that were dismantled and falling down, so that it was thought the end of the 
street was thereabouts and did not stretch much further. That tree was not seen 
until one had walked about a quarter of a mile along the street, and from that point 
to the tree was a good half mile, so that it may be considered that that street is a 
mile^ long, without counting what belonged to the suburbs. [Mr. C. Punch identifies 
the broad street of D.R. with the broad open space in front of the king's compounds; 
it seems to have divided the city into two parts] . 

(O/MG-'S Co fv\ POUNDS 

Ro^c> TO ^(io^JA Stream Ojor^^A 


Road \rv\ Isetu 

Fig. 158. — Sketch Plan of the broad street mentioned by 
D.R. as it appeared in Mr. Punch's time. 

A Baobab tree with platform and human sacrifices. 

B The broad avenue in which the corpses were lying exposed. 

"At the gate at which one enters there is a very high bulwark, very thick and 
strongly made, with a very deep broad ditch, but it was dry and full of high trees. 
This ditch extends a good way, but we do not know whether it extended round the town 
or not. That gate is a well made gate, made of wood to be shut according to their 
methods, and watch is always kept there. Outside this gate there is a large suburb. 
When one is in the big street above mentioned, one sees a great many lanes and 
streets on both sides, which also extend far and straight, but one cannot see to the 
end of them on account of theif great extent. 

" The houses in this town stand in good order, one close to the other, like houses in 
Holland. Houses in which well-to-do people [vornehme Letite] such as gentlemen [cdel 
Leiite] dwell, have two or three steps to go up, and in front have an ante-court where 
one may sit dry, which court or gallery is cleaned every morning by their slaves, and 
straw mats spread for sitting on. Their rooms or apartments within [the court] are 
four square \wie ein Matier] , having a roof all round, which, however, does not join in 
the middle, but is left open so that the rain, wind and daylight can enter. In these 
houses they lie and eat, but they have special little houses for cooking, as well as 
other huts and rooms. The common houses are not built like this, for they have only 
one straight wall, in the middle of which there is a wooden door. They do not know 
how to make windows, but such air and daylight as they have comes in at the roof. 
The houses are, however, all alike red, and were surrounded [? strack] by walls, 
which they make of the earth they dig up, and which is greasy and sticky and mostly 
red ; this earth they water and work it up much as we do mortar at home, dab it wet 

1 ? Dutch mile. 

The City and Its Buildings. 


on top, one piece on another, and let it dry. They make the walls about two feet 
thick, so that these are not easily upset, for it sometimes happens that a heavy rain 
comes which washes down the walls and gives them much to do. 

" The king's court^ is very large, having many large square places within, sur- 
rounded by galleries and courts wherein watch is always kept. This court is so large 






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that the end is not to be seen, and when one thinks one has come to the end, one sees 
through a gateway other places or courts, and one sees many stables." 

Accompanying this account is an illustration (fig. 159) of the city, about which 
the editor is very careful to say that it has been drawn, not from sight, but from a 

1 When he speaks of the king's court he means the whole quarter of compounds dedicated to 
the dead kings. 

i6o Great Benin — Its Customs^ Art and Horrors. 

description,^ yet while it is drawn according to the Dutch notions of the day, and is 
only from a description, it gives one a fair idea of the open courts of which the city 
consisted, and which were the city's architectural characteristics. 

Windam simply tells us the King of Benin " sate in a great high hall long and 
wide, the wals made of earth without windows, the roof of thin boards, open in 
sundry places, like unto louers to let in the aire " (Hakluyt ii., 2nd pt., p. 12). This 
reference to ' thin boards ' is not clear. Mr. C. Punch hazards the comparison with 
the methods of the Ijos "who have a way of pining out the leaflets of the palms 
quite flat, so that the whole frond seen from underneath and dimly, would look to be 
a plain rectangular surface like a board. The thatch used in Benin was always the 
pressed leaves of the Raphia vinifera. It does not grow quite near the city and was 
carried thither. The leaves of a scitamineous plant were also used, but I have not 
been able to identify it." . 

After Windam we have a fairly full account of the city by Dapper : — 

" The town, comprising the queen's court, is about five or six miles in circum- 
ference, or leaving the court outside, three miles inside its gates. It is protected at 
one side by a wall ten feet high, made of double stockades of big trees, tied to each 
other by cross-beams fastened cross- wise, and stuffed up with red clay, solidly put 
together. This wall only surrounds the town on one side, there being on the other, 
where there is no wall, a morass and close underwood, which affords no little pro- 
tection and strength to the town. The town possesses several gates, eight or nine 
feet in height and five in width, with doors made of a whole piece of wood, hanging 
or turning on a peg, like the peasant's fences here in this country [Holland] . The 
king's court is square, and stands at the right hand side when entering the town by 
the gate of Gotton [Gwato] , and is certainly as large as the town of Harlem, and 
entirely surrounded by a special wall, like that which encircles the town. It is 
divided into many magnificent palaces, houses, and apartments of the courtiers, and 
comprises beautiful and long square galleries, about as large as the Exchange at 
Amsterdam, but one larger than another, resting on wooden pillars, from top to 
bottom covered with cast copper, on which are engraved the pictures of their war 
exploits and battles, and are kept very clean. Most palaces and the houses of the 
king are covered with palm leaves instead of square pieces of wood [? shingles] , and 
every roof is decorated with a small turret ending in a point, on which birds are 
standing, birds cast in copper with outspread wings, cleverly made after living models. 

" The town has thirty very straight and broad streets, every one of them about 
one hundred and twenty feet wide, or as wide as the Heeren or Keizersgracht [canals] 
at Amsterdam, from one row of the houses to the other, from which branch out many 
side streets, also broad, though less so than the main streets. 

" The houses are built alongside the streets in good order, the one close to the 
other, as here in the country, adorned with gables and steps, and roofs made of palm 
or banana leaves, or leaves from other trees ; they are not higher than a stadie, but 
usually broad with long galleries inside, especially so in the case of the houses 
of the nobility, and divided into many rooms which are separated by walls made of 
red clay, very well erected, and they can make and keep them as shiney and smooth 
by washing and rubbing as any wall in Holland can be made with chalk, and they 

1 After plate XX. and before plate XXI. there is an editorial note on top of the page, which runs: 
" Folgen noch etliche Figurcn ivckhe nicht in den Hollandischen gcmacht, sondern aiis der Deschreibung gezogen 
nnd hie zu Ende gesetzt sindt " 

The City and 

Its Buildings. 


are like mirrors/ The upper storeys are made of the same sort of clay. Moreover, 
every house is provided with a well for the supply of fresh water : in short, the houses 
are built there more neatly than anywhere in that country."^ 


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Like D.R., Dapper gives an illustration of the city (fig. i6o), but from the 
outside, with a procession of the king, which might have been designed from the 

1 "The chief of Gwatto's house was very much superior, the walls, which were very thick, 
being polished till they were nearly as smooth and shiny as glass." (Boisragon, p. 8i). " For giving 
a polish to the clay walls in Yorubaland, the leaves of the Moringa pterygosperinia are mashed up and 
rubbed over the clay. Nana's father, Aluma, had a clay house in Brohemi, the walls of which were 
better polished than any in Benin. They were like marble." (Cyril Punch) 

2 Of Warri, Dapper writes: " About twenty-seven miles up the river there is a town or borough, 

1 62 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

description of D.R. In his own description, however, he mentions the posts covered 
with carved copper, palm thatch, not shingles, shiney and smooth walls, particulars 
which do not appear in D.R., but which we now know to be correct. His description 
and drawing of the wall and the eagle-topped turrets, however, does not tally with 
other travellers, excepting Barbot, although he would be correct if the use of the 
word bulwark for;, the wall, as given by Purchase, is rightly translated. His wording 
about the housq^' reads very much like that of D.R. 

The next description has been given us by Nyendael : "The village of Benin, 
for it at present scarcely deserves the name of a city, is the residence of the great 
King of Benin, whence the whole land and river also borrows its name. It is situate 
about ten miles inland from the village of Agatton [Gwatto] . The neighbouring 
country is fiat, as is the village itself, which is at least four miles long. The streets 
are very long and broad, and markets are continually kept in them. Formerly the 
buildings in this village were very thick and close together, and in a manner it was 
over-populated, which is yet visible from the ruins of half remaining houses ; but at 
present the houses stand, like poor men's corn, widely apart from each other. The 
houses are large and handsome, with clay walls ; for there is not a stone in the whole 
country as big as a man's fist ; they are covered at the top with reed, straw or leaves. 
The architecture is passable, considered in comparison with negro buildings, and is 
very like the architecture of Axim. The long and wide streets, as I have mentioned 
above, are kept very neat by the women ; for here, as well as in Holland, every 
woman cleans her own doorstep. 

" The king's court, which forms a principal part of the city, must not be forgot- 
ten. It is on a very great plain, near which are no houses, but apart from its wide 
extent it is nothing out of the common. The first place we come into is a very long 
gallery, if it must have that name, which is sustained by fifty-eight strong planks 
about twelve foot high, instead of pillars ; these are neither sawn nor planed, but 
only hacked out. As soon as we are past this gallery we come to the mud or earthen 
wall, which has three gates, at each corner one and another in the middle, the last of 
which is adorned at the top with a wooden turret like a chimney, about sixty or 
seventy feet high. At the top of all is fixed a large copper snake whose head hangs 
downwards. This serpent is very well cast or carved, and is the finest I have seen 
in Benin. Entering one of these gates, we come into a plain about a quarter of a 
mile, almost square, and enclosed by a low wall. Being come to the end of this 
plain, we meet with such another gallery as the first, except that it has neither wall 
nor turret. Some time since this gallery was half thrown down by a thunderstorm, 
since which it has not been rebuilt. This gallery has a gate at each end ; and pass- 
ing through one of them a third gallery offers itself to view, differing from the former 
only in that the planks upon which it rests are human figures ; but so wretchedly 
carved that it is hardly possible to distinguish whether they are most like men or 
beasts: notwithstanding which my guides were able to distinguish them into merchants, 
soldiers, wild beast hunters, etc. Behind a white carpet we are also shewn eleven 
men's heads cast in copper, by much as good an artist as the former carver ; and 
upon every one of these is an elephant's tooth, these being some of the king's gods.^ 

Ouvverre, where the king keeps his court. It is about half-a-mile in circumference, on the land side 
all surrounded by wood. There are beautiful buildings, especially the houses of the nobles, covered 
with palm leaves, like the Benin ones, and made of gray earth, which in Benin is red. The king's 
court or palace is built in the same manner as at Benin, but on a much smaller scale." 

•^ Adams thus describes the audience chamber of Chief Cootry at Lagos, which town was 

The City and Its Buildings. 163 

Going through a gate of this gallery, we enter another great plain, and a fourth 
gallery beyond, which is the king's dwelling-house. Here is another snake as upon 
the first wall. In the first apartment, at the entrance of this plain, is the king's 
audience chamber. . . . On the king's left hand, against a fine tapestry, I saw seven 
white scowered elephants' teeth on pedestals of ivory, which is the manner that almost 
all the king's gods are placed within his house." Nyandael mentions turrets in the 
same way as Dapper does, but in his case there is a large serpent on them, one of 
which has come down to our time, while on Dapper's turrets there were birds with 
outspread wings. 

Barbot's accounts run thus : " The city is enclosed on one side by a double 
ridge of trunks of trees about ten foot high, set close together in the ground for a 
fence or palisade to it, the trunks fastened to one another by long pieces of timber 
athwart, and the interval between the two ridges or rows of trunks filled up with 
red clammy earth ; which at a distance looks like a good thick wall very even and 
smooth. . . . The tops (of houses) are thatched with straw or palm tree leaves." 

" Every building or house has also a small turret of a pyramidal form, 
on some of which is fixed a cast bird of copper with stretched out wings ; 
which is also a pretty sort of work for blacks, and induces me to think they have 
tolerable good workmen, that are somewhat skilled in casting brass or copper." As 
regards the wall, the turrets and birds with stretched out wings, Barbot's wording 
reads as though he had Dapper's illustration before him. 

Legroing tells us : " The city of Benin is situated in a plain surrounded by deep 
ditches. Vestiges of an old earthen wall are to be seen ; the wall could hardly have 
been built of any other material as we did not see a single stone in the whole journey 
up. The houses for the most part are covered with lataniev leaves, and those of 
the king with large shingles. In front of the king's houses there were two thick 
clumps of high trees, and these appeared to us to be the only trees planted by the 
hand of man (Labarthe, p. 175)." From Landolphe we learn that a " ditch more than 
20 feet wide and as deep surrounds the town, and the soil taken out is made on the 
city side into a talus, on which a thorny hedge has been planted so thick, that not 
even an animal can get through. The height of this talus deprives one of a view of 
the houses at a distance, and one does not see them until entering the town, the gates 
of which are very far apart " (II., 48). " The streets are very broad ; in the middle 
there is turf on which the kids and sheep feed ; about thirty feet from the houses 
there is a level road, covered with sand for the inhabitants to walk on " [ibid, II., 50). 
He also mentions several spacious courts surrounded by earthen walls about sixteen 
feet high. Along the inside of the walls there ran a gallery fifteen feet wide, thatched 
with natanier. The thatching is done by overlapping the leaves which not 
being pulled apart, fall one on top of another to a thickness of eighteen inches. 
This roof is supported by large pieces of timber cut into the shape of pillars. They 
are set up about eighteen feet apart, and carry stout horizontal planks on which 

formerly subject to Benin (pp. 102 and 103) : " The entrance leading to the audience chamber 
presented a very curious spectacle. It was an oblong room of considerable length, having an 
opening along the centre of the roof to admit light and air. At one extremity there was arranged 
the king's fetiche, which consisted of three elephants' teeth placed in a reclining posture against 
the wall, with the convex part outwards, and sprinkled with blood. On interrogating Occondo, 
the king's favourite and linguist, respecting the elephants' teeth and why they were Cootry's 
fetiche, his answer was that the elephant, being more sagacious and stronger than any other 
animal, he represented best (metaphorically, of course) Cootry's power over his subjects." 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovrovs. 

abut the sloping joists which carry the roof, which was an ingenious piece of work "^ 
iihid, I., 111-112). Of the apartments of the king's wives he says the walls are twenty 
feet high and five feet thick, solidly built of earth [ihid, I., 335). 

Adams found the city " built very irregularly, the houses being placed without 
any regard to order, and detatched ; consequently occupying a large space of ground." 
(p. III). Of the king's women's habitation he says, " This building is some distance 
from the king's residence, and has the form of a quadrangle with a large open area in 

Fig. 162. — High-pitched king's roof, from a plaque 
in the British Museum. 

Fig. 161. — ^High - pitched roof on 
brass box from Benin. Liverpool 

In both these illustrations the roofs are portrayed as though they were made of shingles. 
Legroing expressly states that the king's house was roofed with large shingles. So as the copy- 
ing of things European was a weakness of most of the kings it is not unlikely that the king in 
Legroing's time had copied a European roof. Mr. Punch tells me he never saw a shingled roof 
in the City. 

the centre ; the doors and windows of the various apartments which compose the 
sides opening into it. The external walls are comparatively high, and have but one 
opening." (p. 126). 

According to Lieut. King, " Benin is situated in a plain at the foot of an amphi- 
theatre formed by hills which extend to the east, west, and north. The walls having 
been to a large extent destroyed and the city having been formerly depopulated by a 
civil war, the circumference of the inhabited area does not now exceed two or three 
miles. The streets are broad and straight ; the houses regularly built, but separated 
one from another by a narrow space, are constructed of mud and occupy the four 
sides of a square court ; the roofs are covered with palm leaves. The houses of 
distinguished personages are very pretty and elegant ; the inner walls are covered 
with mats, and round the court (ponvtoiiv de la sallej there is a divan raised about 

^ Landolphe speaks indifferently of latanier and natanier. I think he must mean Latania 
Lodigesii (Mart.), a palm, not a reed as he calls it. Beauvais in his Flore says the leaves of the Raphia 
vinifera are used for thatching. 

The City and Its Buildings. 165 

eighteen inches above the level of the ground. Mats and woollen [sic] stuffs of home 
make are spread on the divan and ground. 

"The walls of the palace are well preserved, In one of the facades at which 
Lieut. King entered there were three doors, of which the chief was in the middle; on 
each side were rows of eight or ten elephant tusks curiously carved, the points turned 
towards the wall. During the last insurrection the king was killed and a large 
portion of the palace was burnt down, but enough remains to bear witness to its 
former splendour. Down the centre of the facade rises a pyramid about thirty to 
forty feet high, on the top of which there was fixed a copper serpent whose head 
reached to the ground and whose body was as thick as that of a man. The 
inhabitants of Benin have no idea of the lapse of time, but say that this serpent 
has been there for several centuries. Two apartments which Lieut. King saw, and of 
which one was the audience chamber of the king, had been spared by the fire ; the 

Fig. 163. — Street in Benin City. The walls in the background are covered with 
palm leaf thatch; this shows more distinctly in the photograph than in the print. From 
a photograph taken by Dr. Allman, Feb., 1897. 

ceilings were flat and the beams which crossed them were covered with various 
designs." It will be observed that King speaks of a pyramid, and in so far his des- 
cription of these buildings agrees with that of Dapper, who, however, called them 
turrets. ^ 

From Fawckner's description it is clear the characteristics of the city buildings 
were also those of the country in general. Of Yarcella, between Moongye, on the 
coast, and Gwato, he says : " Their houses are all built together forming an oblong 
square, at the head of which stands the fetish hut." At Gwato he finds " The walls 
of the buildings are of clay and are covered in with rafters, across which branches of 
bamboo^ are laid and tied down. There are no windows, but an aperture in the 

^ He describes Warri as containing "about three thousand inhabitants, yet has no walls; the 
streets are wide and straight and the houses resemble those of Benin. The king's residence is more 
than half-a-mile in circumference and is surrounded by a wall on three sides, while the facade opens 
into a large square. At one corner of the building there is a pyramid about thirty feet high." 

2 The word bambu is commonly wrongly used when the midrib of the Raphia vinifera is meant. 
The bambu is common enough in Yoruba land, but does not appear to be indigenous in the Benin 

1 66 

Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovrovs. 

middle of the roof serves to let in the light, under which stands a cistern or tank, 
which conveys the rain away through holes into the ground. Round it is a walk 

about three feet wide, where the people dance In the centre is a bench formed 

of brown clay which by frequent rubbing with a piece of coconut^ shell and wet 
cloths has received a polish, and when dry looks like marble. Here is placed the 
fetish (pp. 32 and 33). The huts are rather larger than those we had previously 
seen, being about ten or twelve feet high on the inside, and some of the halls about 
forty feet long and twenty broad. They are for the most part built of clay and 
surrounded by walls of the same material. The roof is covered with branches of 
the bamboo tree ; in the centre is a hole which serves the purposes of window and 
chimney. Through this hole the rain also falls and is received into a large square 

Fig. 164. — The king's wall, Benin City, drawn by Mr. G. K. Jones, Daily Graphic, Jan. 15th, 1897. 

tank immediately underneath, and conveyed away underground by channels from 
one room to another." (p. 71). And again, " Their beds, which consist of mats, with 
a covering of coarse cotton cloth, are placed on the ground in a recess in the wall, 
which often serves also as a depository for their fetish. During the rainy season 
they sit around a small fire kindled on the floor, without anything to enclose it, and 
the smoke escapes through the aperture in the roof, where generally may be seen 
suspended their war drum, together with earthen vessels and various articles of fetish. 
The doors are hung much in the same manner as a ship's rudder, the hinge being 
formed of wood resembling a spigot and fosset." (p. 72). 

Of Benin he tells us the " houses are decidedly superior to those at Gatto, 
being larger, but for the most part built on the same principle. The palace of the 

1 " Fawckner is in error here ; the empty shell of the large land snail (and not a coconut shell) 
is always used for polishing the clay walls." C.P. 

TJie City and Its Buildings. 167 

king is a large building of wood, not unlike one of our British shot manufactories, 
having a tower or steeple at one end ; the rest of the building consists only of one 
story ; the whole is surrounded by mud walls, which extend some miles. Near it are 
several fetish places, the depository of the usual absurd objects of worship — skulls, 
skeletons, and large ivory teeth. Many unfortunate slaves are also sacrificed at 
different seasons in front of tliese temples." (p. 83). 

At the time of Fawckner's visit there was thus one tower or steeple [turret? 
pyramid] left. He states it was built of wood, while his predecessors do not mention 
the material of its composition. 

The Surgeons Moffatt and Smith do not appear to have published any descrip- 
tion of the city when they visited it. The next traveller that came upon the scene 
was Captain Richard Burton. He firstly describes the houses of Gwato thus : 
" Once a place of considerable importance and studded with factories and business 
houses, Gwato now contains from twenty to thirty habitations, mostly ruinous, but 
sometimes showing traces of former splendour. Streets are, of course, unknown, the 
tenements are either built in clumps or separated by tracts of bush. The best build 
ings have walls of deep red clay ribbed horizontally so as to resemble brickwork, and 
a little smearing makes them look neat and new ; the common sort are merely of 
courses successively dried, as universal in Yoruba. All are capped with tall pent- 
houses of matting with a steep slope to throw off the heavy rams, and, as tornados 
are violent, the timber-work of the interior is uncommonly strong and massive. 
The outside gate of the ' parson's ' ^ house is decorated with a human skull, trans- 
fixed with an iron, and a monkey's head side by side, on an earthen bench at the 
doorway. The walls are adorned with figures of clay in mezzo-relievo, daubed black, 
yellow, and red, and representing giant warriors, with uplifted battle-axes. There is 
a curious likeness between these efforts of infant art and the Nineveh bulls, which 
is probably a coincidence. But the following peculiarity can hardly be attributed to 
accident. It is impossible not to think that Yoruba in ancient times derived its archi- 
tecture through the Romans, whose conquests in Northern Africa were as extensive 
as in the North of Europe. We find in every house a perfect Tuscan atrium, with 
the cavaedium^ or gangway running round the rectangular impluvium, the tank or 
piscina, which catches the rain and drippings falling through the compluvium or 
central opening in the roof. Sometimes the atrium is a tetrastyle in which pillars at 
the four corners of the impluvium support the girders or main beams of the roof. 
As at Abeokuta, the latter is thickly thatched and falls in at a steep angle. 

"I can understand the use of the atrium in beautiful Italy, where it tempers the 
warm rays of the sun by cool shade and softens the summer glare into mellow light. 
But in these lands of violent rains, fierce tornados, harmattans and smoke, it is 
impossible to understand the feelings and motives of the builders, unless, indeed, 
they derived the idea of their hypaethral apartments from the ancient conquerors of 
Morocco and the Atlas. 

"The larger houses have many of these curious courts, of which the third 
usually leads to that which serves as a reception room. On tlie outside there are 
raised earth benches for those who would enjoy the air. The rooms are dark and 
windowless, all of them have at least one alcove, and similar seats are disposed round 

1 The Ahuraku, i.e. the Malaku priest and chief of Gwato was known by this name. 

2 " I am not ignorant that the meaning of this word is still under dispute ; it is used above to 
denote the area between the tank and the walls of the room." R.B. 

1 68 

Great Benix — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

the iinpluviuin. The latter has always a hole in one of the corners, through which 
the superabundant humidity passes off. In the centre is some fetish, either a cone of 
clay, one foot high, with a central aperture set with cowries, or a pot of water half 
buried in the ground" (p. 278). Then continuing, he describes a chief's house in 
Benin as follows : " The house, however, was by no means in first rate order. It 
was the usual Yoruba abode, a large walled compound, with a single great gate, and 
the interior was a labyrinth of alleys, passages, courts, apartments, hypaethral offices, 











and windowless store-closets, the latter always leading out of the sitting-room. The 
atrium prepared for us had been freshly smeared. Like all others it had its house- 
hold gods, three rude wooden images of turkeys^ with drooping wings, disposed in 

1 Compare this description of the bird with Dapper's turret bird. 

The City and Its Buildings. 169 

triangle, supported by two short truncheons, and placed in a black and white striped 
niche in the northern wall, with a raised step below it. I can say little in its favour 
as regards comfort. There were three doors, which rendered it a meeting- place of 
moving multitudes, till we barricaded two of them. There was no look-out except 
through those entrances, at brick walls two feet distant — uncommonly dull on a fine 
day ! And when it rained, the cold torrents pouring through the compluvium made 
it feel damper and look drearier still (p. 288). 

" The king's court, or quarter, is called Obwe ; it is a large village, or rather 
town, separated from the neighbouring settlements by streets broader than Parisian 
squares, and appropriated to the royal family, great men, courtiers, and slaves. This 
part of the city is supposed to contain not less than fifteen thousand souls. It is in a 
most ruinous condition. . . . The outermost gateway of the palace was guarded 
by a fetish altar on the left hand, and in front stood a suspicious clump of trees, 
which at once suggested to me an Oro grove.^ Having passed through the tumble- 
down gateway, we saw before us a spacious square, surrounded by broken brick- 
work and adorned with noble trees. On one of these, which had apparently been 
lightning blasted, flights of turkey buzzards drew our attention to the form of a fine 
young woman, seated, and lashed hand and foot to a scaffolding of rough branches, 
which raised her ten or twelve yards from the ground. The birds had been busy 
with her eyes, part of the bosom had been eaten away, and the skin was beginning to 
whiten — a ghastly sight. In the centre of the precincts was a brass neptune, planted 
upon a tall pole ; it was intended as the reflector of a palm oil lamp, a trick which 
the natives probably learned from the Portuguese.^ At the further end of the palace-yard 
was a large shed, containing the usual number of fine large carved ivories, planted 
leaning against the wall (p. 407). Resuming our walk, we passed through the town 
in a northern direction. Like Abeokuta, it is divided by tracts of bush and wide 
avenues into a number of distinct settlements, each bearing its own name. The 
quarters have regular streets and lanes, and in many places the ground before the 
walls w^as carefully swept and cleaned. When a road passed between two houses, 
both householders were bound to keep it in order. Unhappily, the king had not 
ordered his subjects to fill up the foul pits from which building clay is taken : these 
still remain the founts of fever and dysentery. The immense number of ruins were 
referred by our guides, George and Sawaye, to the absence of 10,000 soldiers at a 
war which has lasted since 1854 (P* 4^'^)' ^^ passed by sundry waterholes and 
yards with tumble-down walls and great gaps, that rendered gates unnecessary. One 
of the courts contained a grand fetish-house, with a number of ivories showing very 
curious and interesting work. At the bottom of the enceinte and facing the sacelluni 
was a little grass-grown rise, the margin of a wide and deep well into which the 
custom's victims are thrown. The people called this the old king's fetish court, and 
it is kept in order by the piety of his son. The next square was subtended by a huge 
shed, open in front, and supported by eight Telamones — rude figures of war men, one 
of them falling from under its load. From the court of the Telamones a small 
wooden door opened upon a lane, and across this was an atriiim of peculiarly ruinous 
appearance. Thence we entered an adjoining room. ... At the lower atrium there 
was a rude earthen bench facing a similar one at the upper end, upon which was a 

1 " For Oro himself, the Oro grove and the horrid purposes to which it is put, I must refer the 
reader to any work on the mythology of Yoruba" R.B. See chapter on Fetish. 
2 This was probably a large standard lamp (see fig. 125). 


Great Benin — Its Custojiis, Art and Horrors. 

small wooden settle serving for a throne. Dr. Henry set out at 7 a.m. to go the 
rounds of the homograns,^ which took him three mortal hours, wandering through 
the great extent of the royal village." He describes the houses of the chiefs as far 
















superior to the palace, " the atviimi large, spacious, freshly glazed, and perfectly clean, 
the altars inlaid with cowries and porcelain platters, and filled with carved wood and 
ivories, and fine mats spread out in the alcoves " (p. 416). 

1 • 

Big men,' fiadors, etc. 

The City and Its Buildings. 171 

Captain Burton was the first to make the comparison between the style of build- 
ing adopted in Benin, and that of the domestic architecture of the Romans. To this 
comparison I will return later. He notices no turrets nor large snakes. 

Captain Gallwey visited the city in 1892. He was lodged in two houses which 
" were built of red clay, having a high wall all round forming a sort of court-yard. 
There were two fair rooms, and many uncanny alcoves ; skulls, human and other- 
wise, hung around promiscuously. The walls were adorned with the impressions of 
a very large hand in lime and blood. The roof was a thatched one, full of creeping 
things." Of the city he writes that it is *'a straggling collection of houses, built in 
clusters here and there, in little or no order. The number of ruins testify to the fact 
that it was once very much larger ; but in our wanderings through the place we saw 
nothing that suggested ' prodigious long and broad streets.' The only market-place 
we saw was on the plain outside the king's residence. . . . The principal part of the 
city is the king's residence. This consists of a number of compounds, each sur- 
rounded by a high mud wall. In each compound is a fetish shrine composed of 
numbers of elephants' tusks, some very beautifully carved, together with a collection 
of native brass work, the whole freely besprinkled with blood. After passing through 
several of these compounds you come to the king's houses, built of red clay, and with 
nothing particular to recommend them" (p. 130). 

Five years after his visit occurred, in January, 1897, the terrible massacre of 
Phillips' party, which was quickly followed by the Punitive Expedition. The official 
account of the city (Foreign Office Report) is as follows : " Approaching from Ologbo 
the bush party suddenly debouches into a broad avenue running at right angles to it. 
This avenue runs through the centre of the town and ends on the west side in the 
Gwato road. It forms a main division of the town, on the southern side the king's 
and chiefs' compounds, and to the northward those of the lesser chiefs and people. 

" The houses are built of red mud and thatched with palm leaves, the only iron 
roofs being those of the palaver house and a portion of the king's house. 

" The king's compound consists of the king's house, palaver house, ju-ju houses 
and compounds, and living houses for the king's people, also old ruined houses, 
probably the burial places of former notable people. The front of the compound was 
protected by a mud wall about twenty feet high, with a sloping roof to the front. 
On entering the compound the first places met are two large ju-ju compounds. These 
are level-clearings covered with grass, capable of holding several thousand people, 
and at the south ends, under pent-house coverings, are the altars. The altars are 
raised mud platforms about three feet high, running more or less the whole breadth 
of the compound, and in the centre are unique bronze heads, each head supporting a 
carved ivory tusk. On the altars also were rudely-carved maces for killing the 
victims — whose blood was subsequently smeared over the altar and allowed to run 
down the steps in front. In the main ju-ju compound the smell of human blood was 
indescribably sickening, the whole grass portion of the compound reeking with it. 
In the corners of some of these compounds were pits for the reception of the bodies 
of the victims. Five large ju-ju compounds were close together in the king's com- 
pound. The immense number of lives sacrificed in them is appalling to think of. 

" In addition to these large public ju-ju places, every house appeared to have its 
ju-ju room, and many a sacrifical altar on which annual sacrifices were found. In 
these ju-ju rooms rubbish of all sorts was collected as offerings ; carved sticks, rough 
plaster figures, and cowries being the most frequent. 


Great Benin— /ifs Customs, Art and Hovvovs. 

" Behind the ju-ju places was the palaver house, and side by side with it the 
king's house. The palaver house was a large building, about 100 feet long and 50 or 
60 broad, with a raised polished wood seat running round the four walls under a 
pent-house galvanized iron roof, the centre of the yard being open to the air. Run- 

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ning down the roof on the south side was a huge bronze snake with a large head, and 
in the centre of the court a bronze crocodile's head. The supporting beams for the 
roof were carved with a sennit pattern and covered with thin brass. The doors also 
were covered with embossed brass. The colour of the brass and its bright surface 
indicated that it had undergone some form of ormolu preparation. 

The City and Its Buildings. 173 

" The king's house was similar to the palaver house, but with rooms leading off 
it, and the beams over the king's seat or bed place had square patches of looking- 
glass let into them for decoration. 

" The avenue in front of the king's compound opened out into a large cleared 
open space, and at the edges of this were the two crucifixion trees. The one to the 
westward was a fair-sized cotton tree, with its top and branches lopped off, and a 
sloping stage built about half-way up, for the victims to rest on. 

" The second crucifixion tree was more to the westward, and was arranged for 
single crucifixions only. Opposite the king's compound a broad avenue ran, flanked 
with bush and occasional houses, for about three-quarters of a mile, when it suddenly 
contracted to a narrow gully, the bottom of which was barely broad enough to take 
the sole of a boot. This was the water path. This gully continued for about three- 
quarters of a mile, the sides being nearly perpendicular, and between 15 and 30 feet 
high. After that it broadened out, and the last quarter of a mile or so was a good 
road through the bush. The Ikpoba creek, which supplies the town with water, is 
only two or three yards wide, with a strong stream and full of snags, but just at the 
watering place it spreads out into a broad shallow pool, some 20 yards broad. 

*' Passing the king's compound, and going to the westward, a large tract of 
common land is met. This was simply strewn with bodies in every stage of 
decomposition, skulls, and bones. Where the Gwato road starts was a large 
compound belonging to Ojumo, a big chief. At the opposite end of the town 
was Ochudi's compound. Several old cannon were found and destroyed, the most 
modern dating from the early part of the century." 

Commander Bacon tells us : " Benin is an irregular straggling town, formed by 
groups of houses separated from each other by patches of bush. It is, perhaps, a 
mile-and-a-half long from east to west, and a mile from north to south. Entering 
from the direction of Ologbo through a grass avenue flanked with bush, a few houses 
are seen on the left ; these run well back into the bush, and form quite a large village 
of themselves ; they belonged to a general called Ochudi, and the village was known 
as Ochudi's compound. Houses then struggled on, on the left side, till high red-clay 
walls are encountered, with a galvanized iron roof sloping outwards form the northern 
wall. This is the main entrance to the king's compound. In this compound or 
village are the ju-ju compounds, palava house, king's house, and many houses for 
the king's immediate followers and the ju-ju priests. It was in these ju-ju compounds 
that the main sacrifices were carried out. To describe one of these ju-ju places will 
be to describe all of them, as they only differed in position and size. These spaces 
were about a hundred and fifty yards long, and about sixty broad, surrounded by a 
high wall, and covered with a short brown grass. At one end was a long shed run- 
ning the whole breadth of the enclosure and under this was the altar. The altar was 
made by three steps running the whole length under the shelter of the shed ; slightly 
raised for some distance in the centre, on which raised portion were handsomely- 
carved ivory tusks placed on the top of very antique bronze heads In the 

centre of several of these ju-ju places was an iron erection like a huge candelabra 
with sharp hooks In most of the ju-ju compounds was a well for the recep- 
tion of the bodies Behind these three main ju-ju compounds, lay the palava 

house and the king's house, side by side. The former a large oblong building, with a 
roof running over the side and end \yalls, leaving the centre open. The roof was of 
galvanised iron, and down the south portion of it ran a hugh bronze serpent with a 
most forbidding looking head. Red mud seats ran round the walls, for the use of 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

the chiefs taking part in the palava. The doors were covered with stamped brass, as 
were also portions of the woodwork of the roof. 

" The king's house was ahnost identical, but smaller, and had rooms leading off 
it. The arch-way over the king's sleeping-place w^as decorated roughly with stamped 

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brass and squares of looking-glass. The remainder of the compound consisted of 
store room, medicine house, and houses for the king's followers, as well as some other 
ju-ju compounds. After which it straggled away into ruined and uninhabited houses, 
used probably as burial-places for the men of note. Leaving the compound and 
facing north there was immediately in front a clear space, forming so to speak, the 

The City and Its Buildings. 175 

delta of the road leading to the water at Ikpoba. On the right was a crucifixion 
tree. A huge piece of land ran away to the left, which seems to have been the 
common burial-place of the town, that is, if merely laying down a dead body, or at 
the most wrapping it in a piece of matting, can be called burial. . . . And yet the 
town was not without its beauty of a sort. Plenty of trees and green all round, the 
houses built in no set fashion, but each compound surrounded by its own bushes and 
shady avenues. It seemed a place suggestive of peace and plenty ; let us now hope 
it may one day become so. There is not much more in Benin to describe, Ojumo's 
compound at the extreme west end was merely a small village, placed just where the 
Gwato road led into the main avenue. It was a queer remnant of the old military 
days of Benin, having the two great generals Ojumo and Ochudi, each guarding one 
end of the town where the main roads from Gwato, Ologbo, and Sapoba led in ; and 
grazing all about the place were bullocks and goats. 

" Beyond one blacksmith's shop^ there was little sign of any native industry or 
evidence of much trade with the interior, in fact, it is known that the king was ruin- 
ing the country by placing a juju on nearly every article of merchandise " (pp. 86, 
88, 90, 94, 96, 97). 

The last description that has come into my hands is that of my brother. Dr. 
F. N. Roth, late Medical Officer at Warri, and advance Surgeon to the main column 
of the Punitive Expedition. He says : — 

" Starting with the king's compound and houses and going up the main road on 
the right, there is an im_mense wall 20 feet high and 3 or 4 feet at the base, and 
perhaps 2 feet wide at the top. At the back of this there is a big compound or open 
space, and it is entered through a doorway, the big door of which is lined with sheets 
of brass with stamped figures of men and leopards' heads. The big wall must be 
about 100 yards long, perhaps more. 

"Passing through the central door we come to the compound; in it there is a 
big tree and at its foot there is a deep pit. These pits are found in all the compounds 
and some of them are more than forty feet deep. The original object of digging the 
pits is said to be the obtaining of the clay of which the walls are built. On the other 
side of the compound facing the big wall is another wall partly roofed in, and along 
this is a row of brass heads, and on the top of every head is a long, heavy, weather- 
worn finely carved ivory tusk ; near them and against the wall were the w^ooden rattles 
with which, as we were told, captives were killed by being struck on the neck ; be- 
tween the brass heads were brass castings of men on horseback, in armour, in chain 
mail, etc., and many other articles which have since become familiar to us. All the 
articles were thickly encrusted with blood, and a fearful smell pervaded the place. 
These compounds repeat themselves ad lib. and so do the pits, ju-ju figures, blood, 
and stench. 

"Through this compound to the right is the king's palaver or meeting house, 
where the king used to sit to meet strangers, etc. The first thing which strikes one 
here is the metal roof on which, just facing you, is an immense brass snake crawling 
down with its big head close to the gutter of tlie roof. There is a sloping roof of 

1 Dr. F. N. Roth tells me Commander Bacon is in error here, and that instead of the one black- 
smith's shop, there was in the city a whole street of blacksmiths' shops. These shops had the 
appearance of cattle pens, and unless anyone looked closely into them and saw the remains of the 
work and the tools, he would think they were intended for mistals. 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvors. 

Muntz metaF all round this compound, leaving the centre of the compound open to 
the air and skies. This place is fairly lofty, and all the rafters are of wood carved 
with rough figures ; some of the rafters ha^'e been covered with brass sheeting on 












which figures have been punched. The roof is supported by over a hundred pillars 
made of bronze sheets rivetted together, giving a very good effect. Round the sides. 

This palaver house was being finished during Mr. Cyril Punch's last visit in 1901, when the 
king informed him that he had obtained rough carpenters from the Jekri chiefs for making a big 
house ; he said he was using a lot of iron sheets and Muntz metal, which Mr. Puncb had previously 
obtained for him. 

The City and Its Buildings. 


hundreds of people can find accommodation. It is entered through a big doorway, 
the door of which is covered with brass-work, fitted with an ivory catch attached to 
an ordinary native chain. Here were found the king's boxes, huge chests, practically 
dug-outs, with compartments made by leaving partitions as the hollowing process 

*' Close to the palaver house on the right is the king's house. At the entry there 
is a huge wooden door made of horizontal slabs with two pieces of wood diagonally 
fixed on one side to hold them together; on the fiat side it is covered with sheets of 
thin brass ornamented by means of a punch or blunt chisel, with a sort of guilloche 
pattern ; it has the usual ivory catch. The house (or compound) is about sixty by 
twenty-five feet, and like the palaver house, it is furnished with a pent-roof all round. 
The roof is of galvanised iron and is supported by heavy rafters, etc., much resem- 
bling the oak roofings of old houses in England. The rafters are carved, but most 



__- L 




Fig. 171. 

J/, :// 

Fig. 170. 
Figs. 170 and 171.— Sketch of section of wall and of the roof timbering in a compound of the 
king's house, Benin, by Dr. F. N. Roth. 

of them are covered with the figured brass sheetings which are so characteristic of 
the king's buildings, and are kept polished. The soil is banked up all round the 
walls to the height of about eighteen inches, and wide enough for people to lie down 
on all along. This embankment gives the centre of the house the look of a hollow, 
after the manner of the old Roman villas, and, of course, open to the skies. Round 
the walls are doorways leading to dark cupboards, or to queer dark passages which 
lead to kitchens, at least I judge so, because we saw little fires had been built in 
recesses in the walls. Such houses are very cool during the day but rather warm at 
night. The walls appear to be of sun-dried clay mixed with sand ; they are generally 
fluted horizontally on both sides, but on the inner side the surface is very much 
smoothed and occasionally polished."^ 

1 Landolphe, at Gwato, says the houses built of clay were polished inside with much art (I., 330) 

1 78 

Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

Dr. Felix N. Roth has also given me sketches (figs. 170 and 171) of the method of 
building the walls and roof as they appeared to him when he slept in the king's com- 
pound on the first night of the arrival of the Punitive Expeditions. A represents the 
upright post or style ; B the tie or binding beam ; C the king post ; D and E rafters 
(in same parts D had the position of D^ when there would be no king post nor ridge). 
The style post A was about 8 feet high, the divan F running round the inside 
of the wall was about 3 feet wide and perhaps as high. He adds that while the 
Expedition was engaged in pulling down many of the walls for purposes of defence, 
he did not notice that any sticks or timber had been used to strengthen the walls, the 
only timber in the construction being that required for door-ways, windows and roofs. 
In some cases the clay appeared to have been simply lumped together to make_the 

Fig. 172. — View of Benin City from one of the sacrifice trees, by Mr. H. C. Seppings 
Wright. Suppl. to Illustrated London News, March 27th, 1897. I" reality the lines were 
not so straight as here depicted. 

walls, but in others " I noticed that when the natives built the walls they made them 
in layers about two feet high, as shown in sketch. Each layer seemed to have been 
dried first before the next was built on to it. The big compound walls were all 
thicker at the base than at the top, but I did not notice this to be the case with 
regard to the ordinary walls of the huts, although the walls of the king's compound 
being very high were likewise thicker at the base. All the walls were thatched to 
withstand washing away by the rains." 

In the Supplement to the Illustrated London News for March 27th, 1897, there is 
a ** View of Benin " [City] (fig. 172) from one of the sacrificial trees, by Mr. Seppings 

















Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horvovs. 

Wright, to which are added the words " The city consists of a number of huge 
compounds of oblong shape, surrounded by walls made of red mud." 

A view of the city (fig. 173) "from a sketch by an English Officer," appeared in 
Globus (Vol. Ixxii., 1897, P' 3^°) 5 at first sight it appears to be almost identical with 
that given by Mr. Wright. Both these illustrations have, however, the same 
obvious errors, viz., the tops of the walls are not covered with thatch and the out- 







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lines of the streets are too straight. The illustration on p. 165 (fig. 163) from a 
photograph taken by Dr. AUman, Chief Medical Officer, Niger Coast Protectorate, 
shows how the walls are, if not actually thatched, at least covered with grass or 
leaves to prevent damage by rain. Were the walls to be left without this capping 
they would soon be washed away. As regards the straightness of the streets it is 
one of tlie characteristics of a negro builder or joiner that he cannot make a straight 

The City and Its Buildings. i8i 

line, and Europeans find it a most difficult matter to get him to make one even 
tolerably straight. Otherwise I am informed the two illustrations give fairly 
accurate views of the city. The little windowless store-closets which, according to 
Burton, always lead out of the sitting room, do not however, appear to do so in the 
in the above illustrations, nor have we in any case any indication of the 
grooving to resemble brickwork. For comparison with the above illustrations I give 
one of a view (fig. 174) of the little town of Kse Ado in Yoruba land, (the Binis are 
closely allied to Yorubas) taken from a rock at a height of about 300 feet, by the 
Rev. J. T. F. Halligey, who has kindly placed it at my disposal. As to the manner 
in which walls are built in the Yoruba country he tells me : " The only method I 
have noticed in building walls is for the builders to take large lumps of clay, about as 
large as a human head, and with as much force as possible fling the lump on the wall. 
As he goes round the wall a course is formed, not very regular as you may suppose, 
but still the courses are very plainly seen. Before the clay has fully hardened the 
two sides of the rising wall are pared with a cutlass. Sometimes the inside is also 
plastered over, in which case the wall courses are then covered."^ 

The general style of the architecture of the habitations so far described, is met 
with as already indicated almost throughout Yoruba, and in slightly modified form 
right across the country as far as the Kameruns. Thus writing as far back as 1848, 
W. F. Daniell (Jour. Ethnol. Soc, 1848, I., pp. 219, -^90), after calling atten- 
tion to the inferior workmanship of the houses of the natives of the middle and upper 
classes of Old Calabar, says : — 

"The peculiar novelty of these tenements, is the different courtyards, or open 
compartments, in which all are more or less sub-divided, the whole of which if thrown 
open would occupy no small space of ground. Evidence of laborious and not 
unskilful attempts to bestow an air of comfort are perceptible on all sides, and more 
than ordinary attention appears to have been paid to their constant purification and 
cleanliness. These courts are usually of a quadrangular form, the first or external 
one having a small doorway or porch for the purpose of ingress or egress. Some are 
fitted up with a series of petty chambers close to the walls, in which the inferior 
household slaves live, and others have a matted roof projecting a few feet from the 
wall surrounding the area, which forms, if I may use the expression, a kind of 
sheltered corridor. In the centre of these courts the ground is excavated to about a 
foot in depth, corresponding to the eaves of the roof; the remaining space being 
elevated in the same proportion by a hardened composition of sand and clay, much 
employed by most of the natives of Western Africa. Adjoining these clayey 
partitions, and almost encompassing the square, the cement work [sic] is further 
elevated to the height of two feet, and dyed on the top a deep jet black. On 
important occasions it is covered with mats and grass cloths. The inner surface of 
the walls is adorned with curious and elaborate arabesque designs, in which red, 
yellow, black, and white pigments are blended with all the artistic skill of native 
professors. In the middle portion of the excavated area of the inner square, there 
is frequently planted a small tree, which bears a beautiful purple campanulate flower. 
At its root is always embedded a skull, near which are small bowls with other Egbo 
symbols. This human memento is occasionally to be found at the entrance of the 
interior chambers of the courtyards." 

1 This method of flinging lumps of clay is that adopted in the fire-clay works of Halifax and 
elsewhere, when heavy articles such as mangers are being made. 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvovs. 

The northern limits of the Yoruba style of architecture may probably be taken 
where that of the conical huts commences ; thus at the extreme end of the Niger 
Coast Protectorate that limit would be between lats. 8° and g° on the westward 
trend of the Cross River, where Captain Beecroft's party were surprised to see 
conical huts (Jour. Roy. Geogr. Soc, XIV., 1844, p. 275). On the east we have this 
style of architecture in the nearer back country of the Kameruns, as shown by 
Captain Hutter (fig. 175). On the Niger the limit would be at Adda Mugu, con- 
siderably north of Abo, where as Allen and Thompson found in 1841, "the huts 
were, for the first time, of the peculiar form which prevails in the interior, namely, 
circular, with high, conical thatched roofs. All below this town are square or 
oblong." (Narrative of Expedition, 2 vols. London, 1848, I., 274). To the west 
the northern limit is apparently in one locality at Egbe, in the Yagbe district, N.E. 
of Aiede, as can be gathered from Capt. D. J. May's journal of his travels in Yoruba 
and Nupe countries in 1858.^ (Jour. Roy. Geogr. Soc. XXX., i860). At Ilesha 
(N.E. of Ibaden and Abbeokuta) he says : " The Chief's house is imposing in height 
and size, regularly built, and really looks like a palace in Africa. After half an 
hour's waiting in an outer courtyard, surrounded by a numerous and anxious crowd, 
I was ushered farther into its recesses into a spacious square, with a piazza round it." X/" 
(pp. 217-8). At Aiedi (still N.E.) " The Chief was seated under a piazza on one 
side of a spacious square ... I was desired to seat myself under the piazza opposite 
him, and our conversation was then conducted by a party of three or four running 

between us." (p. 224). Egbe (in 






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Fig. 175. — Plan of a Banyang compound (Lat. 
6° + ) a threshold, h postern, c mud divan with 
c'^ arm rests, d closet, e hearth, /mud seat, g mud 
footstool, h walls, t hard floor a few centimeters 
above the street level, Capt. Franz Hutter 
Nord-Hinterland von Kamerum, Brunswick, 
1902, p. 277. 

Yagbe district, N.E. of Aiede) 
consists of two distinct parts, ap- 
proaching the style of the towms 
on the Kwora in rudeness and 
closeness of construction, and 
general foulness, and showed a 
curious amalgamation of the round 
built houses of that locality with 
the square characteristic of the 
interior; and as a farther symptom 
of approach to the river I observed 
armlets of plates of ivory super- 
seding the solid ones " (p. 225).^ 

There is consequently a limit to 
this form of building to the north 
and east. In the north-west (West- 
ern Sudan) there is quite a differ- 
ent style of architecture. Take 

1 The Dahomey King's compounds at Calinma, south of Abomey, were very much like the 
Benin compounds, but curiously enough, at Abomey the king's bedchamber was a circular detached 
room with a conical roof (see Norris pp. vii-viii). 

2 Naturally on frontier towns the architecture would be mixed, for mstance R. A. Freeman 
writes of Bontuku : — ' It was very curious to observe how each of the builders adhered to his 
national type of dwelling — reproducing in miniature the houses that were to be found in his native 
town or village. Thus the Fantis raised little oblong huts with high pitched roofs and gable ends ; 
the Houssas, little beehive-shaped dwellings with a small hole for a door way, while others built 
circular huts of a conical form with high pointed roofs." (Travels and Life in Ashanti and Jaman, 
London, 1892, p. 345). 
















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Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvovs. 

for instance the walls of Segou, or of the Mosque at Timbuctu (figs. 176 and 177). 
No buildings could be more unlike. The Western Sudan buildings have more 
batter and the finish is vertical, as shown by the f^at pillars or pinnacled buttresses, 
which as in our Gothic may have been introduced because the building material is in 
itself not sufficiently cohesive, or to strengthen the walls where windows are 
introduced. Captain Dinger (Du Niger au Golfe de Guinee, Paris, 1892) shows 
these butresses to be widespread by the numerous illustrations he gives (figs. 178 and 
179), but they are quite unknown in Benin. On the other hand, there is a superficial 
resemblance between Captain Binger's view of Kong (I., 295) and Dr. Dapper's 
view of Benin, due no doubt to the pyramid-like towers common to both towns in 
the illustrations. The suggestion that the Benin habitations have architecturally a 
Roman origin seems precluded by the fact that they are cut off to the north by the 
Haussa conical type, although of course the Haussa might have not been originally 
where they now are, so that an outler of Roman civilisation might have stretched right 
down to Benin. But these hypotheses are too remote for us to base any serious 
conclusions on them. 

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Fig 180. Sketch plan of the king's 
compound by Mr. E. P. S. Roupell. 
A Ahar. 
B Big door. 

C Little huts for guardians. 
D Small round mud altar. 
E Well ; the ground here caked like 

cement with spilled blood. 
F Wooden side doors. 

This sketch is typical. There were 
about thirteen such compounds each sacred 
to a defunct king, and the whole space so 
occupied formed the king's quarters, 

Messrs. Reed and Dalton (Antiquities p. 8) after dismissing the notion of a 
Roman origin for the open court, think it "is more natural to suppose that it arose 
from the need of ventilating and lighting windowless rooms, or from the practice of run- 
ning a verandah round a small courtyard, into which the doors of inner apartments opened, 
I am more inclined to think it arose from a modification of what is now well-known as the 
Gold Coast house, described as follows by Geo. Macdonald : " Many huts require no door, 
the fourth side of the house being entirely open to the winds of heaven. When this 
is the case the habitation consists very often of three or four distinct huts enclosing 
a compound with their open sides turned towards the centre, the whole being en- 
closed with a pallisade of bamboo with a door or gate at one angle. In the centre of 
this compound the cooking is done, etc., etc." (The Gold Coast, London, 1898, p. 81). 
A development of such a compound by means of a fourth house and the drainage of 
the centre brings us to the Benin habitations. That such buildings are likewise 
common to the Gold Coast is shown in the illustrations kindly placed at my disposal 
by Mr. Graham Nicholas. 

But the chief point of interest is not so much the outward appearance as the 
arrangement of the inhabited building inside the four large walls, and here we leave 

The City and Its Bnildinf^s. 


the negro methods and strangely enough, enter upon foreign ground. In spite of the 
outward resemblance the enclosures, for instance at Ese Ado, are simply oblong 
structures with a co\ered lean-to all round, like the ordinary Benin compounds, but 
in so far as the internal arrangements, that is to say the actual dwelling-houses, are 



10 ,5 o 



Fig. 181. — Plan of an ordinary well-to-do negro's house, at Labadie, Gold Coast, typical 
of the country, made from the actual dwelling by Mr. Graham Nicholas, late Public Works 
Department, Gold Coast. Note "The outlines have been drawn straight, but it must be 
remembered practically all the lines are crooked, as no untrained negro is able to make a 
straight line." G.N. 

concerned, the Benin arrangements are not met with in Yorubaland excepting in the 
town of Onde, which is close to Benin. It is therefore most probable that we have 
to look for a Portuguese origin of what first struck Burton as being Roman. 


o E 














v; "^ 



The City and Its Buildings. 


Of these internal arranf^ements Mr. Punch writes me : " There was usually an 
entrance court giving on to the street by a big door. There were two recesses as in 
the drawing. In one were ranged the lares and penates, and the father of the household 
celebrated yearly rites in memory of his father. Through the other recess, by a 
door, entrance was gained to the first patio or reception room. The thatch sloped 
down to the centre and drained into the cistern, exactly as one sees in the houses of 
Pompeii. The drains were made very ingeniously. While the house was being 
made, a gutter was dug from the central water tank, through the floor and under the 
wall of the house. Stems of pawpaws [Cavica papaya) were cut and laid in the drains 
and then earth was stamped, filling up the gutter to the level of the floor. In a few 
days, the pawpaw stems, being very succulent, shrunk in drying and were easily 
drawn out, leaving a good drain pipe. 

u u — u 

A A 

. 8 















y — 

Fig. 185. Sketch plan of a typical 
Benin house by Mr. C. Punch, 

A Cooking places, 

B Store rooms. 

C Pluviarium in private quarters. 

C Pluviarium in Reception Court. 

D Porch. 

E Juju altar. 

F Entrance court. 

" The first room was the largest and seemed to be public property for all the 
world and his wife. Slaves and the lower members of the family lived in it, and 
strangers camped there, prisoners were chained to the floor, and in Ewagwe's house 
there was a ju-ju altar, and I was much struck by his having a tame parrot on a 
tree in the bath, tank, or whatever one calls it. Two kinds of trees were grown in 
these places : Newhonldia Icevis, the akoko, common as a boundary mark in Yoruba, 
sacred to the iron god, Ogun ; one also frequently met with Erythrina umbrosa, with 
its panibles of crimson blossom, sacred in Yorubaland to the hunters' fetish. 

" In the second room the family lived, though the women had a house of 
their own built on a similar plan, but enclosed in the same compound. The divisions 
between the rooms were wide, and contained in their width either stoves or sleeping 
alcoves, exactly recalling again the cubicles in a Pompeian house. The store- 
rooms and alcoves were ceiled with rafters, and over the rafters split bamboos, and 
then clay forming almost fireproof closets. 

" The stores were locked with native locks, the principle of which was a bolt 
working through staples. The key was a piece of iron with a piece bent at right 
angles. The keyhole was at different lengths above the bolt, so that only the key of 
a right length would reach the bolt. Practically I do not think the locks were much 


1 88 

Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvovs. 

protection. The alcoves used for sleeping contained all kinds of weird jujus, and the 
ceiling and jujus were painted black with a kind of pitch got from the ground, prob- 
ably the same as mentioned in the digging of the pits in the king's compound. 

Fig. i86. 



Fig. 187. 

Figs. 186 and 187. — Ivory carvings said to be door bolts from the king's compound, 
Benin City. The bolt (fig. 186) is 12 in. {30-5 cm.) long, the bolt (fig. 187) g| in. (24*8 cm.) long. 

" The master of the house often had a third room where he could be quite quiet 
and private. At the end was an open court with cooking stoves, &c., and often a 

The City and Its Buildings. 


small garden in which tobacco was grown for home use. The doors were hung as 
in the sketch, the socket at the bottom being either the bottom of a glass bottle or else 
a split coconut shell. They were made of rough hewed slabs nailed with iron spikes. A 
cord of tie tie {Calamus Bavtev) ran through a staple and supported a block of wood, 
the weight of which kept the door closed." 

V ^>WS'irJl_^^^ "-r^-' --i>'Jr r^;-'* -"^r- 

_ Fig. 188. Sketch by Mr. C. Punch 
to illustrate doors in use. 

Fig. i8g. Sketch 
to illustrate door key 
and bolt by Mr. C. 


1 C 




Coming to the question of the towers, turrets or pyramids, Mr. C. Punch writes 
me : " There was at one of the compounds when I was there, the remainsof a two- 
storied gateway which might look like a tower. The towers might possibly be a piece 

of imagination founded on the high pitched 
thatch roof such as you show in fig. 191. 
Speaking of this, the high pitched gables 
are a feature on the Alaffin's house at 
Awyaw, and also in Ife, the sacred city 
of the Yorubas. I think they are called 
Kolbe, and are made by simply raising the 
ridge post at one end to form a very high 
gable, in memory of a defunct king. They 
are not really impressive, but might be 
taken for towers by a strong imagination, 
or these structures may have had their 
origin in the roofs of the entrance gates. The entrances to the compounds and the 
gates from one compound to another were in my time always unroofed square 
chambers higher than the rest of the walls. It might therefore be that in former 
times these chambers were roofed, and, if so, the roofs might have had a pyramid 
form and appeared as turrets, the royal emblem the bird being placed on top. 

The big ditch mentioned by D.R. is thus spoken of by Roupell officials : " The 
big ditch was dug by Oguola. He and his people came from God. When God had 

Fio. igo. — Sketch plan 01 an entrance 
gateway, by Mr. C. Punch. Compare this 
with the gateway in Mr. Granville's illus- 
tration fig. 193. 

1 90 

Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

born them, Oguola called his boys and saw they were very plenty, and he had no 
work for them to do. Then he told them to dig the ditch round the town. He did 
not dig it for war, but so that men might see it when he was dead, and say : see the 
ditch Oguola dug — we do not know why it is stronger and deeper on the northern 
side of the town, so he dug it and so it is." The wall and ditch are not mentioned in 
the Portuguese chronicles in so far as I can ascertain, but of Gwato Pereira (Esmir- 
aldo, p. 72) says it has " no walls but a deep fosse all round" ; as Gwato, the trading 
port of Benin, was entrenched, it is not likely that the larger city would be in an un- 
defended state and hence the officials implied statement, that the walls and ditch 
were built before the advent of Europeans, is no doubt correct. Landolphe, as we 
have seen, says it was 20 feet deep. 

Fig. 191. — A Jekri village on the Benin river, with Yoruba building on left hand side. 
Daily Graphic, Jan. 13th, 1897. The high-pitched roof of such a building may have some- 
thing to do with all we read about towers, turrets, pyramids, and spires in the various 
descriptions of Benin. 

" This ditch," Mr. Roupell tells me, " is much deeper on the northern side than 
on the southern side. This one would account for by the fact that if any attack was 
threatened, it would come from the side of the Kukurukus — the northern neighbours. 
Judging from the size of the immense trees growing inside it, it must be very old. It 
is particularly steep and deep in the rear of the king's compound. Travelling in a 
northerly direction from Benin towards the Ekiti country, several more smaller 
ditches are passed, cut at right angles to the road ; these may in former times have 
surrounded towns and villages. 

" So too," says Dr. F. N. Roth, "on the Ologbo road to Benin the Punitive 
Expedition came across a deep trench about three miles from the king's compound. 
It was so very evenly made that several of us thought we had reached the old ditch 
round Benin city. It is approximatively of the section shown (fig. 192). At another 
place about twelve miles from the king's compound, some members of the 

TJic City and Its Buildings. 


expedition marched for several miles in a ditch of similar formation to the above." 

" There was also a big ditch 
crossing the road between Benin 
and Ugwini, about seven miles 
from the city. It was said to have 
been made by a Benin king to 
ward off the attacks of the Ugwini 
people, who at one time were 
powerful, but who in these latter 
days were of no importance, and 

who were absolutely oppressed and tyrannised o\'er by the Ukoba " (C. Punch). 

Fig. 192. — Approximate section of ditch round Benin cit)-. 

Fig. 193. — Ruined doorway leading from one compound into another in Benin City. 
From a photograph by Mr. R. K. Granville. 

Fig. 194. — Carved Tusk. 

Fig. 195. — Carved Tusk. 


Huge carved tusks — Two grades of carving — Carving tools (196) — Carved ivory staff — Sphyrelaton 
work— Ivory masks (199) — Embryo scroll work — Leopard mask — Ivory statuettes — Carved ivory 
box (201) — Ivory armlets— Ivory sistra (205) — Coco nut decoration — Pressure drum — Carved 
wood work (209) — Horseman — Casket — Looking glass — Absence of floral ornamentation- 
Zoological forms — Progress or degradation — Foreign elements — Characteristics of Bini carv- 
ing (213) — Primitive designs — Belongs to age of realistic representation 

As the art of carving in ivory and wood had attained a fairly high stage of progress 
in Benin, it will not be out of place to devote a few pages especially to it. Among 
the large variety of curiously carved objects discovered in Benin not the least curious 
are the huge carved tusks, of which large numbers were brought home when the 
Punitive Expedition had done its work. Reference to these tusks has been made in 
Chapter VI., on Fetish and Kindred Ceremonies. Most of the tusks found in siUi 
were covered with a thick coating of congealed human and animal blood ; other tusks 
were found buried, some of them in a very decayed condition. The tusks vary in 
length up to 6 feet and over, and are in themselves magnificent specimens of ivory, 
speaking eloquently of the pacific life elephants must have led in former times to 
have enabled them to live long enough to produce such splendid ivory .^ The orna- 
mentation to which the large tusks have been subjected, while preserving their form, 
is of two grades : the one severely plain and the other extremely decorative in its 
effect. The former consists of a series of three to five incised bands of plait pattern, 
a design very common in West Africa, placed at intervals (fig. 194), the bands 
diminishing in width as they approach the tip of the tusk. The embellishment is 
consequently plain but elegant, and does not call for further remark. The other 
grade (fig. 195) consists in covering the whole tusk with a succession of boldly-carved, 

^ A portion of this chapter appeared in The Studio. 

2 " There are few places in Western Africa, from Sierre Leone to the Cape of Good Hope, but 
where this article, obtained from the elephant and seamorse or sea-cow, is to be purchased, although 
more abundantly in some places than others. At the different towns on the windward coast a small 
quantity only is to be procured. The country extending from Cape Palmas to Cape Three Points 
trades in this article to a considerable amount, and from the latter place to Accra the trade in it is 
very limited. From Accra to Bonny the trade in it is again extensive, particularly at Popo and 
Benin. Cameroons is celebrated for its ivory, which is of a very superior quality, being less porous 
and more free from flaws than that which is obtained at the former place. A very considerable 
quantity is procured on the coast of Angola, particularly at Ambrize, Loango, and Majumba." 
Capt. John Adams, Cape Palmas to the River Congo, London, 1823. 

Bird brought home twenty-eight tusks on his first expedition. Landolphe on one occasion 
in 1789 sent home 20,000 pounds of ivory (p. loi), and remarks on another occasion that the king 
had over 3,000 tusks piled up in one of his courts, of which Landolphe obtained one weighing fifty 


Fig. 196. — 
Carving on tusk. 

Fig. 198, — 
Tip of tusk, 
front view. 

Fig. 197. — Tip 
of carved tusk. 

Fig. 199. — Carving on tusk. 

Fig. 199 — 
Tip of tusk, 
side view. 

Fig. 200. — Carved figures 
on tusk. 

Fig. 201. — Carved 
figure on tusk. 

Fig. 202. — Carved 
figure on tusk. 

Fig. 203. — Carved 
figure on tusk. 

Fig. 204. — Carved 
figure on tusk. 

Fig. 205. — Carved 
figure on tusk. 

Fig. 206.— Carvings on tusk. 

Fig, 207,— Carvings on tusk. 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvovs. 

grotesque figures — -human, animal, and symbolic — giving the tusks a rich, embroidered- 
like look, the thick ends being finished off with a suitable diamond-pattern belt (fig. 
196), and the tip finished with equally appropriate carvings in the shape of a mascle- 
studded foolscap (fig. 197), or a capsule supported by elongated cowries (figs. 198 and 
199). The background appears to be cut out to a uniform depth, and in spite of the 
multiplicity of figures there is neither overcrowding nor overloading. The motif, if 
such it can be called, of the ornamentation would appear to be partly emblematic of 
the Bini's belief, and partly representative of the court ceremonial. The chief groups 
of figures, which repeat themselves with variations, and are placed one above another 
along the convex surface of the tusk, may be said to be a mythical hybrid, a central 
figure with lower limbs developing into cat-fish or snakes (fig. 199), or a chief sup- 
ported by tw^o courtiers (fig. 200), groups which are widely diffused throughout the 
carvings and castings. These principal figures are surrounded over the whole surface 
by other figures representing functionaries (figs. 201, 202, 203, 204), while the spaces 
between are filled in by animal forms, which are more or less of a fetish or symbolic 

Fig. 208, — Carving representing a double cat-fish 

nature, or by heads, rosettes (figs. 205, 206, 207, 208), etc. The whole arrangement 
is carefully carried out, notwithstanding the crudeness and ruggedness of the carving, 
and although it can hardly be called a design, where there is such a want of cohesion 
in its components, the general effect is exceedingly good, and the effect is certainly 
heightened by the above-mentioned belt tastefully set at the bottom, which gives a 
decided finish to the whole work. 

As to the methods followed in the carving we have no records, but Mr. C. 
Punch, who saw some tusks half completed, says no tracing or drawing was applied 
first ; the carver, who was a court official, a Ukoba, made his design as he went on, 
using no model ; and the only implements he saw used were jack knixes and ham- 

The carved ivory staff (figs. 209 to 211) appears to be a piece of symbolic 
sculpture probably used as a sceptre, a class of insignia very common in Benin. The 
execution of the detail is rough — more rugged perhaps than the carved tusks ; never- 
theless there is considerable originality in the design, and it is especially remarkable 
as showing perhaps an early stage of the application of hammered metal work to 
carved work. The central figure represents an elephant supporting an inverted cone, 
which is furnished with a cup-like excavation at the top, a couple of iron staples, 
which may have served as the hinge of a lid, being driven through the lip of the cup. 

Fig. 2IO.— Back view. Fig. 211.— Front view. 

Of Carved Ivory Staff (fig. 209.) 

Fig, 209, — Carved 
ivory staff. 

Fig, 212. — 
Carving on 
ivory staff, 
(fig. 209.) 

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Carved Work. 1 99 

The elephant is flanked on both sides by a free device, consisting of a convention- 
alised cat-fish grasped by a hand, of which the forearm terminates in a snake's head 
holding a smaller cat-fish in its jaws. The elephant's pedestal, carved front and back 
(the bird on the back (fig. 212) bearing consideral)le likeness to the well-known birds' 
beak ornament on Norman doorways), rests on the staff proper, which consists of a 
large snake's body, of which the head holds another cat-fish. The ornamentation of this 
large snake is formed by coiling round it the body of a slimmer snake, whose one 
head holds a hand on the front of the pedestal, whilst its other head, instead of a 
tail, points downward in the direction of the larger snake's head. The check pattern 
interstices on the cup and on the elephant's body are filled in with what appear to be 
exhausted percussion caps rammed tight into position. The forearms, above referred 
to, flanking the elephant, as well as the staff proper, are twined round with a thin 
strip of iron ; the design on the front of the pedestal appears at one time to have 
been inset with strips of iron in a similarly crude fashion ; in fact, so crudely has 
this been done that these additions can hardly have beautified the carving to the 
smallest extent. This iron is not fitted on by rivets or pins, but by means of its ends 
being rammed tight into small holes, drilled specially somewhat deeper than the 
background of the carvings to receive them. The only true example of sphyrelaton 
is shown round the neck (fig. 209) of the large snake, where we find a thin brass 
plate hammered out into scroll pattern ; the portion of the ivory immediately under- 
neath the brass is left quite plain. When new, this brass necklace must have 
enriched the effect of the carving in no small degree. 

The two ivory masks (figs. 213 and 214) show elaborate care in the chiselling, and 
are noteworthy as examples of human European heads breaking into embryo scroll work. 
This is seen in the tiara, formed of alternate catfishes and human heads round the 
one face, and of human heads only round the second face. Animals such as 
catfishes, snakes, etc., are continually met with as decorative adjuncts, apparently 
quite apart from their fetish or symbolic value, but it is rare to meet wnth human 
heads tending to evolve into scroll work, and their appearance here may point to 
development after the advent of the Portuguese. The pupils of the eyes of the 
masks are let in with metal, and the foreheads are disfigured by the two coarse 
grooves once occupied by strips of metal ; it has been suggested that the latter 
insertions are tatu marks, but such cannot be the case as similar insets are met with 
in widely different objects, as for instance, metal caskets and boxes. The beards of 
the masks have at some period been adorned with strips of metal similar to those on 
the ivory staff. The arrangement of the hair over the forehead is curious ; it may 
be intended to represent a mail cap, or it may be meant to show curly hair, pressed 
like honeycomb or basalt into hexagons. 

The leopards mask (fig. 215) in carved ivory is considerably conventionalised. 
It is, unfortunately, much worn, but it bears evidence of excellent workmanship in 
the clean way in which the teeth are depicted. The leopard's spots appear to have 
been indicated by inserting, into holes drilled right through, copper or iron rivets 
similar to those used for splicing leather belting ; one such rivet is still in situ. 

The armless ivory statuette (fig. 216) is characteristically Bini, and appears to be 
of considerable age judging by the perished state of the ivory. The loin cloth is 
ornamented with what look to be masks, and as some of the bronze horsemen from 
Benin have their jackets similarly decorated, we may conclude that one function of 
the numerous ivory and brass masks of human, leopard, or crocodile representation 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

was to serve either as an adornment or fetish on native clothing. It should be 
mentioned that all the masks in ivory or brass are furnished with lugs or rings for 
attachment. A comparison of the features of the face of this statuette with those of 

Fig. 2i6.— Ivory Statuette. Mr. K. K. 
Granville's Collection. 

Fig 217. — Sobo Wooden Fetish. 
British Museum. 

the neighbouring Sobo wooden fetish (fig. 217) shows striking differences in type and 
execution, and thereby offers a field for speculation as to the causes of these differ- 
ences. One of the causes is not far to seek. Until the destruction of Benin the 
Sobos were subject to the city, and their country was a happy hunting-ground for 
the capture of slaves for human sacrifices, of which we have heard so much, and thus 

Carved Work. 


instead of spreading the partially developed art culture of which she was mistress, 
Benin used her power to destroy that little which her neighbours once possessed ; 
hence the crude figures of the fetish illustrated. These i\-ory statuettes were not un- 
common, see (fig. 218 and 219). 

Fig. 219. — Two views of a Carved Ivory 
Figure (Male). Height 15^ in. (39 cm.) Bank- 
field Museum, Halifax 

Fig. 218. — Ivory Kneeling Figure. 
Height 2ogin. (52 cm.) Liverpool Museum. 

The carving on the ivory box lid (fig. 220) differs from that on the other objects 
in its possession of a historical motif, represented by two Europeans falling foul of 
each other; proving that Europeans were occasionally wanting in the virtue of unani- 
mity, the absence of which is generally considered a characteristic of the negro, and 











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Fig. 225.— Back view of 
fragment of carved ivory sis- 
trum (fig. 224.) 

Fig 224 . — Fragment of carved 
ivory sistrum. 

Carved Wovh. 205 

moreover, accounting to some extent for the loss of prestige and ultimate withdrawal 
of both Portuguese and Dutch from Benin city. The figures are bold and lifelike, 
even the unamiable expression on the faces of the combatants is portrayed in a vivid 

In fig. 221 which appears to depict only one carved ivory armlet, we have really 
two armlets, one being carved inside the other, out of the same piece of ivory, with 
only the space of a knife-blade's thickness between them. When moved, the two 
armlets rattle against each other. The ornamentation consists of four figures of a 
king or chief, belonging to the outer armlet, and four sets of two hands (upper and 
lower) placed between the human figures belonging to the inner armlet. The whole 
shows rather fertility on the part of the artist in planning a difficult piece, and con- 
summate skill in its elaboration than any beauty in design ; it is, nevertheless, a 
piece of work, which, for the ingenuity displayed in its production, cannot fail to be 
admired. Figs. 222 and 223 represent similar pieces of work. 

The gem of all the carved ivory work is to be seen in the highly ornate fragment 
(figs. 224 and 225) on an article which had originally the shape of a brass sistrum, con- 
sisting of two bell forms, a larger and a smaller, grafted on to one handle. Its 
delicate treatment differs considerably from the rugged workmanship of the staff 
above described, but it errs in over- elaboration, and the plait-pattern background, 
although in low relief, is still too pronounced not to detract from the boldness of the 
three figures. There are, however, good points, such as the blending of the two bell 
forms into their common handle, the happy tapering of the ornamentation into the 
Norman bird's beak, the increasing size of the side cusps as they rise to correspond 
to the enlarged opening of the bell form, the truthfulness to nature in an essential 
like the bust of the negro, all of which betoken a fair amount of artistic feeling. The 
craftsman, who probably designed as he proceeded, must have revelled in the careful 
execution of the smallest details. A similar article is illustrated in figs. 226 and 227. 

Coconuts were another material on which the Bini displayed their ingenuity. On 
one coconut there are four principal figures of which we give illustrations, viz., a 
horseman (fig. 229), a drummer (fig. 230), an official (fig. 231) and an oil presser (fig. 
232). The horseman has a curious scarf across his shoulder and breast, but he is not 
enveloped in the usual leopard-skin jacket in which the mounted Bini figures are 
made to appear ; his visible foot rests in a mediaeval stirrup, and the horse's head 
is twisted round in a curious way to face the beholder. The drummer, with a sort 
of cap of liberty on his head and with a beaming smile on his face, has a Yoruba 
pressure drum (fig. 233) under his arm, and is holding the native curved drumstick 
(fig. 234) in his right hand. This drum has a body shaped like an hour-glass, (fig. 235) 
with skin drawn over both ends, held more or less taut by green hide thongs (fig. 
236). When the drummer presses these thongs under his arm to their extreme 
limit the skin is tightened, so that when struck its pitch is raised about two 
octaves. The bottom of the coconut (fig. 237) where the feet of the figures 
meet, is finished off by the representation of a snake ; we have the artist's 
truthfulness to nature in the spur-heeled feet of the figures — spur-heeledness being a 
characteristic of the Bini and some other West African natives. The top of the 
stopper is carved into the form of a human face, and is attached to the nut by a well- 
worn chain of European manufacture. The interest in this carving lies in its 
demonstration of the adaptability of the native to perform creditably on a material 
very different from ivory. Fair ingenuity is displayed in the manner in which the 
figures are grouped on a confined surface without overcrowding ; in fact, the feature 

Fig. 227. — Portion of back 
view of fig. 226. 

Fig. 226.— Ivory carved sistrum I4jin. (36cm.) long over all. 
In the possession of E. P. S. Roupell, Esq. 

Fig. 228.— Strikers for 
the sistrum, fig. 226. Front 
and side view of top and bot- 
tom ends of carved ivory- 
wand with which the ivory 
sistrum was struck. At a 
court function when the 
king was pleased at any 
occurrence he nodded to an 
attendant who held the 
sistrum, and this man then 
struck it with the wand, 
lo^in. (273 cm.) long. 















■ 4) 









Carved Work. 209 

of the work is the careful distribution and general freedom of treatment. The details 
of the carving are throughout in low relief, remarkably clean and neat, and of a 
uniform depth, a characteristic which is also found in the carving of the tusks above 
described. The same carefulness in execution is shewn by the carving of the coco- 
nuts illustrated in figs. 238, 239, 240 and 241. 

A very large amount of carved wood-work was lost in the conflagration at Benin, 
and that which has come under our notice cannot be said to rank very high. The 
execution of the horseman (fig. 242) is crude to a degree, and reminds one very much of 
the illustrations in Lander's journal of fetishes met with at Kiama (north-west of 
Rabba and south-west of Boussa). The casket (fig. 243) is a not uncommon general 
form which varies much in detail ; the pedestal represents cowries ; the ears are 
covered with embossed brass work, and there are strips of brass of scroll pattern 
(fig. 244) running down the bullock's face and round his nose, fastened on by small 
brass staples. In the looking-glass door-frame (fig. 245) one might almost imagine 
there was some humorous idea lurking in the figures of the three women and girls, 
but although the natives are laughter-loving, we have no evidence of their putting 
this characteristic of theirs into material shape. The figure at the end of the line of 
six females appears to be that of a guard similar to the one shown at the spigot end 
facing the reader ; so that one is inclined to think that the doorway barred the 
entrance to the women's apartments. The object of the sliding panel may have been 
to preserve the glass. There are three different plait patterns, one similar to a 
Hittite pattern round the frame, and altogether it is a good piece of carved wood work.^ 

With the exception of one possible foliage pattern which repeats itself with 
variations, and the representation of the palm and its supposed offshoot the rosette, 
appearing on the metal-work dealt with in the next chapter, there is a total absence 
of any attempt to delineate the flora of the country, hence the development tow^ards 
conventionalism can only be looked for in the representation of zoological forms. In 
these there appears to be some progress or degradation, according as to whether the 
result is distortion in a measure due to incapacity on the part of the workman to 
draw or carve that which he has set himself to do, as, for instance, in the leopards at 
the foot of the fetish (fig. 199), or whether the result is modification of a set purpose 
as in the case of the tiaras of the masks (fig. 213 and 214), which have been executed 
by competent hands. The representations of the double cat-fish (fig. 208) belong 
partly to the first series for they are badly carved, and partly to the second, because 
the way in which the head and tail are juxtaposed show deliberate intention ; the 
snakes and cat-fish, when they appear as recurved human legs (fig. 199), forming the 
only piece of fancy we have observed, are undoubtedly symbolic and hence deliberate, 
but belong to neither category. 

We must, however, remember that there are considerable foreign elements in 
Bini decorative art which will account for many contradictions. Part of these 
elements consist of European forms which the native mind, so prone to copy, has 
not failed to hand down to us, and part, if not the actual foundation of the art, has 

1 " There were many looking-glasses in v/ood frames, but most of these were destroyed on the 
second day of occupation when the conflagration occurred. Where the glass was not square, i.e., 
irregular or round, etc., the frames had been made to suit the shape of the glass. On one such 
frame there were carved hatless and bootless natives without mustachios, leading prisoners with 
chains round their necks ; the prisoners were clothed with boots, beefeaters' hats and bold recurving 
mustachios." (F. N. R). 


Fig. 233. 

Fig. 234 

Pressure Drum (fig'' 233), Drumstick (fig. 234), and Body (fig. 235) (reduced). In 
the possession of the Rev. J. T. F. Halligey. 

Fig. 235. 

Fig. 23G. — Portion of Yoruba 
pressure drum, showing method 
of attachment. 

Fig. 237. — Bottom of carved coco-nut, fig. 229. 


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Carved IVovk. 


been introduced from other portions of Africa. Speakin,G^ generally, the art may be 
said to be characterised by boldness, freedom, clearness in execution, originality, due 
perhaps as much to a grotesque mixture of subjects as to the method in which they 
are handled, variety, a want of fantasy, and, excepting a few special cases, by primitive 
designs. It has not by a long way reached the stage attained for instance in New 

fr ^M^'Uf 

Fig. 242. — Top of staff. From 
the late Miss M. H. Kingsley's 

Fig, 243. — Casket From the late Miss M. H. Kingsley's collection 

Fk;. 244. 

Guinea,' for it limits itself to the delineation of isolated portions of religious or court 
ceremonial, historical events, and individual peculiarities of human, animal, or artifi- 
cial form, and hence it belongs to that early period so aptly described by Henry 
Balfour as " the age of realistic representation."^ 

^ The Decorative Art of British New Guinea, by Prof. A. C. Haddon, F.R,3., Dublin, 4to, 1894. 
■^ The Evolution of Decorative Art. London, 8vo, 1893, p. 7. 





































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Fig. 247 — Carving on an elephant tusk. 

Fig. 248. — Ivory bottle stopper. 

Fig. 249. 

Fig. 249. — Ivory armlet obtained from Lokoja at the confluence of Benue and 
Niger rivers, but judging by the arms emerging from the nostrils, of Benin make. 
British Museum. Diam. 5|in. (13 cm.) 

Fig. 250. Fig 251. 

Figs. 250. 251. 252. — Carvings on the armlet, fig. 249. 

Fig. 252. 

Fig. 253.— Bronze head of a young 
woman. The finest piece of cast bronze 
art obtained from Benin Height 15^ in. 
(40 cm.) British Museum. 


Metal castings an unknown Bini art — Earlier references — How the ai tides were found — Extra- 
ordinary variety — Bronze staff head (219) — A common motif — Conversion of the catfish — The 
rosette— Delineation of Europeans' limbs (220) — Representation of leopards' spots (221) — A bold 
piece of work — The sistrum — Flat bell forms — Female figures uncommon — D.R.'s rattle — Crotals 
— Method of casting crotals — An elegant piece of work — Brass casket (223) — A different style 
of work (225) — Bronze vase — A spirited piece of work— Bronze ^gis or Mask (225) — Accident to 
mould — Conversion of elephant's trunk — Method of producing the metal work (226) — Cire perdue 
process — Dr, Allman's find — C. Punch's views — Statement by Roupell's officials (229) — Local 
legend as to introduction of the art — Clever artificers raised to nobility — Suggested 
Portuguese origin (232) — Diminutive heads in backgrounds — Desire for increased artistic effect 
— First Portuguese figures on plaques (233) — The art of bronze casting possibly not indigenous — 
Style thoroughly African. 

The taking of Benin city opened up to us the knowledge of the existence of a 
hitherto unknown African craft, the productions of which will hold their own among 
some of the best specimens of antiquity or modern times. Truly enough, in the 
earlier accounts of Benin the bronze castings are mentioned, and as late as 1892, 
Capt. Gallwey (Geogr. Jour,, I., p. 130) speaks of them as brass ware of very clever 
workmanship ; while Lander, when at Jenna, about forty miles north of Badagry, 
to the west of Benin, describes a curious brass instrument which, with our present 
knowledge, we may ascribe to Benin art: "North of Alorie " [Ilorin] , he says, "on 
one of the musical instruments were represented the busts of two men, with a tortoise 
in the act of eating out of the mouth of one of them. The tortoise had a cock by its 
side, and two dogs standing as guardians of the whole. These figures were all 
ingeniously carved in solid brass .... hundreds of little brass bells were suspended 
round their edges for ornament rather than for use, for being without clappers they 
could produce no sound." (Jour., Lond., 1832, I., p. loi). Nevertheless, neither 
traveller, ethnologist, nor archaeologist dreamt of the stores, rich in quantity and 
quality, as well as in variety, which have been brought to light. 

The finding of the articles is thus described to me by my brother. Dr. Felix N. 
Roth, late District Medical Officer at Warri and Advance Surgeon to the main 
column of the Punitive Expedition : — " Every house had its alcove, of various dimen- 
sions, and with or without steps leading up into it ; on the top or only step was found 
a variety of clay figures of men, women and children — like the natives — and 
whitewashed, with strings of cowrie shells, twisted cotton, etc., hanging round their 
necks. A large part of the loot was found embedded in the walls, and occasionally 
in so testing the walls the soldiery put their hands into human corpses built up in 

Portions of this chapter appeared in The Reliquary, July, 1898, and The Halifax Naturalist, 
June, 1898. 



Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors . 

them ; some of the clay benches round the compounds also contained decaying human 
bodies. In front of the entrance to all the houses there were conical-shaped earthen 
mounds, which on being broken up were found to contain a few shells and beads. 
Some of the altars were also said to contain human bones. On one large plaque I 
noticed three European figures riding on donkeys (? small horses) and being pulled off 
by the natives; some of the apparent Europeans were lying about and had deep gashse 

Fig. 254. — Bronze cock in the Leyden Museum. 

in their bodies. In a group of bronze figures I saw dressed Europeans slaughtering 
natives, the latter being bound, with their hands clasped as in prayer and kneeling ; 
heads of other natives were depicted lying about on the ground. In one compound 
by themselves I saw several good castings of bronze cocks (fig. 254), the feathers 
having apparently been afterwards chased to show the marks. There were also some 
very large heads (fig. 85), so heavy that one man could hardly lift them ; there were 
also large copper snake heads, with open mouth, showing teeth well executed, equally 
heavy. While I was still in the city two solid cast brass figures were brought in. 
They represented dwarfs typical of cretinism (fig. 255) ; they were without hats, and 

TJic Metal Castiiifrs. 


Fig. 255, — Bronze figures of 
dwarfs, from a snapshot photograph 
by Dr, Allman. 

simply clothed in drapery from shoulders to below the knees ; their weight was pro- 
bably about 60 to 70 lbs. each. A curious brass jug (fig. 256), now in the British 
Museum, in form somewhat like the early English jug lately recovered from 
Ashantee, but with three protruding flat feet, I obtained out of the wall at the back 
of the king's compound." 

It will not be out of place here to discuss the points of a few of the best specimens 
of the bronze and brass castings which I have been privileged to examine. 

In fig. 257 we have the representation of the head of a staff, or wand of office, 
of which various specimens now exist in European collections. The motif may be 

briefly said to be a leopard supporting a 
column on its back, a not uncommon motif 
in the art world, as, for instance, the lions 
and other animals supporting columns in 
Moorish and in Assyrian architecture; it 
is also not uncommon in the Yoruba country, 
where a drum on top of a column is oc- 
casionally supported by the back of an animal. 
The uppermost portion of this staff head 
consists of a band of engraved basket-work 
pattern, with grained open ground. This 
is followed by a band of fish-scale pattern, 
ornamented at the lower corners of con- 
tact by punched indents. On this band 
there are an upper and lower series of orna- 
ment in relief. The upper series consists 
of four faces : that on the front being prol)ably of a negro, with the tribal 
marks on the forehead, and that on the back being of a European, both faces being 
in full, and boldly and clearly executed, while the two faces on either side are of 
Europeans, flat, poorly executed, and in profile with the mouth curiously twisted 
into full face. The lower series consists of a central European full face (below the 
negro face), flanked by two conventionalised mud or cat-fishes, whilst at the back we 
have a rosette. It is an interesting study to trace in Bini art work the evolution of 
the mud or cat-fish (evidently a representation of a spirit of considerable importance) 
from the two distinct early conventionalised forms to the almost vanished animal 
represented by its whiskers alone in the later stages of ornamentation. In reply to 
my enquiry as to the probable species indicated by these representations. Dr. Giinther 
writes me that the fishes are too much artistically distorted to allow of identification, 
but they give him the impression as if " the artist had in his mind the appearance of 
Polypotevus bichtv, a common tropical African fish." The rosette also plays an import- 
ant part as a decoration, of an almost high art function in this and other bronzes from 
Benin. We do not find it in rows or in borders, as architectural patera, so frequently 
to be seen in Egyptian or Assyrian sculpture, but dotted here and there as the fancy 
of the artist inclines, mostly at the two or four corners of the plaques (fig. 4). It has 
been suggested that this rosette is a representation of a palm, and there seems some 
probability for the suggestion, for the ribs are all more or less feathered to look like 
palm leaves. But in some examples the rosette appears to be intended to resemble 
a flower, and agrees herein with the Egyptian rosette (which we are told has a daisy 
for its prototype), thus possibly but hardly betraying an exotic origin. 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvovs. 

The European figures on either side of the leopard, in their flatness and general 
crudeness are quite out of keeping with the rest of the work, and they contrast un- 
favourably with the bold life-like attitude of the animal. One is almost inclined to 
think that the same artist could not have modelled both the leopard and the two 

Fig. 256. — Jug discovered embedded in the wall in 
a king's compound. British Museum. 

distorted human figures. It is a character of nearly all the later human figures from 
Benin that the heads are out of proportion large to the size of the body, while the 
great length of the body is out of proportion to the size of the legs. The Bini almost 
invariably give their fellow Africans sturdy lower liml)s, while they do not do so 

The Metal Castings. 


invariably to Europeans (figs, i & 4). The latter, of a certain type, are made to 
stand on well-planted feet ; while such Europeans as are in any way about to use 
their guns have the legs bent and puny. The idea is, I think, taken from observing 
Europeans lightly bending their knees when awaiting attack in a posture of defence, 
or from observing European sportsmen much in the same attitude when about to 
raise their arms to fire. In the United Service Museum there is an excellent bronze 

statuette (fig. 5) from Benin showing a Portuguese 
soldier with his legs in such a position. 

In depicting the leopard the artist has indicated 
its spots by means of a series of indents punched 
in a circle ; but on other examples of leopards from 
Benin (fig. 258) the spots are indicated by flat rings 
in relief.- Strangely enough, flat rings in relief 
are used by other Bini artists to represent the 
natives' woolly hair ! (fig. 259). 

One cannot help admiring the boldness with 
which this leopard has been modelled, or the firm- 
ness with which his claws grasp the ground ; while 
the vigorous way in which the tail is made to sup- 
port the back of the column should be remarked. 
Equally admirable are the suitable proportions into 
which the bands of ornament are divided. The 
uppermost band is kept well subdued, so that the 
faces of the next band are brought more promin- 
ently into relief ; while the fish-scale pattern of 
the ground- work, on to which the faces have been 
grafted, affords scope for the artist to extend his 
design while still keeping the enchasing well 

The next illustrations (figs. 260 & 261) represent 
two views of what we may venture to call a sistvnm. 
It consists of what appears to be two brass bell 
bodies, a larger and a smaller, welded together at 
the tapering ends. African flat bell forms are 
well known, and frequently they are seen welded 
together as they are in the case illustrated (figs. 109, 
no & 262) ; the Bini sacrificial axe (fig. 61) offers 
a further example, and so do the sistra in carved 
ivory. On the face of the larger bell is represented 
the now well known group of a king or chief with 
a sort of Persian head-dress, with a harpoon-like 
projection, perhaps a degenerated fleur de lys, 
at the top. He is supported on both sides by similarly dressed individuals. Some- 
what above the level of his head the chief is flanked by two tablets, each upheld by a 
hand emerging from the background ; such tablets are very common on the carved 

Fig. 257.— Staff head 
(brass inlaid in copper). 
Length giin. (24 cm.) 

1 In the figure of Ptah-Seker-Aiisar the body is ornamented by circles formed of dots, and the 
sarong by fish scale pattern very similar to that above described on the staff head (Walter Budge, 
The Mummy, London, 1894, P- 216). 


Great Benin — 7^5 Customs^ Art and Hovrovs. 

tusks, but where they appear in bronze ware, they are upheld by a female figure, 
which is somewhat uncommon among the numerous figures represented in Bini art. 
All these figures are in relief. The background is enchased with an elegant foliated 
design, somewhat Bornean in character. The back of the bell has a similar relief, 
excepting that the supporters are kneeling and turned towards the chief, while the 
chief's legs are transformed into upturned semi-circles capped with the cat-fish head, 
the whole resting on a horse's full face. The ground work has the same foliated 
tracery as on the front. Below, in low relief, are two European profiles facing each 

Fig. 258. — Bronze leopard with spots represented by flat rings Liverpool Museum. 

other and holding a ring between them. The smaller bell is faced with a negro in 
high relief, shaking the rattle mentioned by D. R. (fig. 103). This man is dressed 
in one of the many costumes found on the Bini wall plaques already referred to ; 
level with his shoulders on either side, in low relief, are what are probably meant, I 
believe, to be crocodiles' faces, while his legs are flanked by crude faces in low relief 
similar to those in fig. 257. The ground is filled in by the same enchased design as 
on the larger bell. At the two edges of this bell are a series of small crotals. These 
crotals are perfectly plain and hollow, and contain one or two small, more or less 
globular, pieces of brass or copper, about 4 or 5 mm. in diameter. When the instru- 
ment is shaken these produce a faint rattling, not a tinkling noise. In the collection 
in the British Museum, plaque No. 171 shows a man in high relief with such a 
sistrum in his hand. In the sistrum illustrated, the crotals have all been cast smooth, 

The Metal Castings. 


but I have seen similar crotals, or hawk's bells, from other parts of the Niger Delta, 
where they have been made of spiral wire, and others again where they have been 
made apparently of rings of increasing size soldered together (see note fig. 126). In 
two places on the larger bell where the casting of the crotals^ has failed, or where the 
crotals may have been broken off, other crotals have been let in afterwards as substi- 
tutes (but not as in some cases where extra ornamentation such as eyes, cat-fish, etc., 
have been made separately, then fixed on to the mould and caught up by the molten 
metal, and thereby giving at first sight the impression that the casting has all been 
made in one operation in one piece). Taken as a whole this sistrum is an elegant 
piece of workmanship. The thoroughness of the details of execution is worthy of a 

Japanese, even the inaccessible 
and almost hidden portion of the 
smaller bell being enchased with a 
pattern (angular guilloche). 

In fig. 263 we have represented 
a curious casket, brought home 
by Dr. F. N. Roth, and found 
suspended from a wall in a house 
in Benin. In design it is bold 
and artistic ; the high relief of 
the bizarre face and the zig-zag 
conventionalized serpents and tad- 
poles being well thrown up by 
the enchasing of the ground-work. 
The proportions are all good, and 
this is especially the case with the 
enchasing of the inclined sides. If 
the actual workmanship be some- 
what crude, that is to say, if the 
relief portions are roughly cast and 
not finished off, and the enchased 
work irregular, on the other hand 
the great variety of the objects 
exhibited without any overcrowd- 
ing, the general grouping, the toned background, the real beauty of the major 
portion of the design, show that the artist was a man of considerable taste, not only 
judged as a negro, but as a man of culture. In fact but for the bizarre ornament- 
ations in high relief, i.e., the human face, snakes, etc., the whole design is so 
harmonious that it might be European, ancient Assyrian, or perhaps Phoenician in 
origin, for its design has much in common with the designs on brass plates or cups 
which have come down to us from those people. The heads in high relief on the 
inclined sides appear to be those of bullocks, pigs, and of some strange unknown 
animal. The top and bottom edges as well as the peripheries of the openings are 
ornamented with a double plait in low relief ; below this decoration on the opening 
of the lower half of the casket, there is a series of eight small staples, from which 
probably a kind of small common hawk's bell was once suspended. The design on 

Fig. 259. — Bronze head of a horseman, 
with woolly hair represented by flat rings 
In the possession of Mr. R, K. Granville. 
Height 3iin. (89 cm.) 

1 Crotals, or hawk's bells, form quite a feature of Bini art, and appear in the most unlocked for 
articles, either cast or suspended loose by links. 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

the inside of the lid is not so well enchased, perhaps on account of the difficulty of 
using the tool — nevertheless, it is pretty. A stout brass chain is attached to the 
casket by strong staples. The uses of the casket are not known. 

In the three articles above described we have very good examples of some of the 
higher class metal workmanship as found in Benin. They are also representative, in 
so far as regards the execution, of the very homogeneous nature of the art metal 

Figs. 260 and 261. — Brass sistrum. Length ii-^-in. (30 cm.) 

work of tliat city. We will now deal with two bronze, or brass, castings, equally 
well executed, the examination of the workmanship of which, apart from any 
question of gradation of skill, tends, I think, to show that either there was a period 
when the workmanship and design underwent considerable modification, or that a 
different class of artist may have been introduced. 

In fig. 267 we have a bronze vase whose ornamentation consists of four mask- 
like faces in high relief, two plain and two ribbed, set alternately ; above each of the 

The Metal Castings. 


ribbed masks there is a conventionalised decorated elephant's head without any trunk; 
above the plain masks there is a flat spiral on which rests an ornamental triangle on 
its apex. Between the heads are placed bands of very plain guilloche, each band 
consisting of alternate three or four rows each ; above and below, concentric circles of 
imitation (? coral) bead-work, all in low relief, help to fill up the ground. The whole 
arrangement forms a combination of decidedly artistic effect. There is no enchasing 
or punching of any sort, nor is there much ornamentation, but that ornamentation is 
designed in such a spirited manner as to produce a result which can hardly be sur- 
passed by Europeans at the present day. 

The agis (fig. 268) is of cast bronze, and consists of an almost semi-circular 
panel, surrounded by an imitation basket work border, all the designs being in high 
relief. There appears, however, to have been some accident to the mould, for the 

parts of this border do not meet and cross in the manner 
evidently intended they should do. On the outer edge 
of the border are eyelets from which (judging by 
other articles from the Niger Delta) little hawk's bells 
were at one time suspended. In the centre of the panel 
is a mask in several respects similar to one on the vase. 
An upward curling snake issues from each nostril, form- 
ing a design probably of considerable symbolic meaning, 
for we find it very common ; where the head of the 
right hand snake should be, the casting has evidently 
failed, for there is a hole right through the panel. Above 
the mask are two almost circular holes, each bordered by 
the body of a snake with a head at bot'i ends ; these two 
holes give the impression of having been made to look 
through, so that the whole cegis may in itself have been 
worn as a mask. Above these eye holes is a bullock's 
head; behind and partly above this bullock's head is a 
broad loop running parallel with the plane of the (sgis, by 
which it may be suspended. On either side of this head 
are elephants' heads with trappings falling over the fore- 
head ; the upper ends of the tusks appear to be bound 
round with cords ; the trunks turn outwards, and their car- 
tilaginous rings are brought prominently into relief, while 
their tips are roughly made into fingers holding a net 
rattle, similar to the one described above. This human ending to the trunk is of very 
connnon recurrence in Bini objects, and is mostly met with in a very degenerate 
form on the carved ivory tusks, where the hand at the end of such trunks is made to 
hold a feather, panel, or other object ; in the course of the trunk's degeneration into 
an arm by itself, the tusks cross and join, and with the ears help to form an orna- 
mentation, which looks like an epaulette (fig. 269). At the bottom of the panel in 
the middle there is a small grotesque looking object, which may be meant for a frog. 
I have met with this object both well and indifferently executed on other forms from 
Benin. Below the central mask are two cat-fish, with their tails curving to right and 
left towards the trunks, which in the smoothness of body, in shape of tail and head 
whiskers, differ very materially from the cat-fish, whether conventionalised or not, 
as depicted in fig. 270. 

Fia. 262. — Double Bell 
Forms from Yoruba, In 
possession of the Rev. J. 
T. F. Halligey. 



Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

It is very clear that the style of the art of the vase and crgis differs materially 
from that of the staff and sistrum. There is no enchasing or tooling whatever ; there 
is not even an engraved quarterfoil, a design almost universal on the plaques, and so 
clearly shown on the illustration of the morion (fig. 271). 

It may now be asked how were these articles produced, and whence did the 
people learn the art ? They were made by the cire perdue process (Fortnum, Bronzes, 
p. 19), that is to say on a core of hardened sand is moulded a wax model, which is 
then carefully coated with clay ; the wax is melted out, and the molten metal is made 
to take its place ; when cooled and the clay removed the rough casting is the result. 
This is then generally finished by tooling, punching, etc. The articles are not always 

Fig. 263. — Brass Casket, diam. 8^ in. (20-6 cm.) Formerly in the 
possession of the late Mary H. Kingsley, now in the Pitt Rivers 
Museum, Oxford. 

cast in one piece, and wherever possible skill is shown in order to save metal or to 
ensure lightness, by making protuberances concave at the back. In the staff head 
described above, the hard sandy core can still be scraped out, so that we have here a 
decided proof as to the process employed. The ancient Etruscans and Greeks made 
their castings solid, without any sand core, while the Bini were evidently adepts in 
the superior method practiced by the ancient Egyptians. (Perrot and Chipiez, 
History of Art in Am. Egypt, London, 1883, II., 202). 

According to Dr. Allman " The manufacture of bronzes was evidently carried on 
under the direct supervision of the kings, as the smelting pots and the clay and bees- 
wax for moulding, etc., were all arranged in a compound adjacent to the palace. 
Several moulds in various stages of completion were found here ; those ready for 
casting represented when broken the following appearance. A mould of special clay 







Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horvovs. 

formed the base, over this a Hkeness of what was required was beautifully modelled 
in beeswax, and outside this a covering of ' potters clay,' the whole being wrapped in 
ordinary mud of mortar. I can only conjecture the final process to complete the 
operation, i.e., the mould, after being sufficiently sun-dried, is transferred to the 

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smelting pot and completely submerged in the molten metal, which takes the place 
of the wax, and the object is accomplished." On the other hand, Mr. Punch does 
" not think the bronze castings were done under the direct supervision of the king, as 
the latter's personal staff consisted of his bodyguard, his executioners, his handy- 
craftsmen, but did not include bronze workers for the bronze castings which were 

The Metal Castings. 


done elsewhere. I do not think any of the large castings were done in our days, but 
am not certain. They claim that they were still made, and I saw some fairly large 
quadrangular bells with the medallions and fine fish-scale pattern which were fresh. 
However, all the heads that I saw were of old make, I saw none with marks of fresh 
firing." Roupell's officials did not include a bronze worker, but they gave him the 
following account of the origin of the process : " When the white men came in the 
time when Esige was king, a man named Ahammangiwa came with them ; he made 
brass work and plaques for the king ; he stayed a very long time, he had many wives 

Fig. 267. — Bronze Vase. Height 5^in. (14 cm.) 

but no children ; the king gave him plenty of boys to teach ; we can make brasswork 
now but not as he made it, because he and all his boys are dead. Before King Esige 
died he sent one man named Inoyen to the white man's country with some white 
men ; he stayed long, and when he returned he brought back with him that plain 
stool and a message of salutation from the king of the white men. When Erisoyne 
was king he had one made like it so that men might see it and say, ' Look, Erisoyne 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horvovs. 

made this.' When Osogboa was king, he sent messengers to the King of Igbon I bo, 
(? a country near the Niger), but the people of Igbon were bad and killed the 
messengers, then Osogboa vex, and he sent w^ar against Igbon and caught the king 
and plenty of his people. When they brought them Osogboa called Ahammangiwa 
and his boys, and asked them if they could put them in brass; they said 'we can try,' 
so they did and those are they — then the king nailed them on the wall of his house. 
The other plaques are pictures of white men, friends of the kings and Ahammangiwa, 
but who they are or their names we do not know. The remaining plaques we do not 
know who they are. The white men's house is near Obayagbon's, it is where the 


Tig. 268. — Bronze JEgis. 155 x 13! . (40 x 35 cm.) Liverpool Museum. 

first king put them — it has always been kept up ever since — it has fallen in now since 
the war. Ahammangiwa was a white man. In the time of Esemede, Overami's, the 
late king's grandfather, white men named Ayniaju, the man without eyebrows, and 
another named Cappy Dor, used to live and trade at Gwatto. Chief Eseri was alive 
then. Cappy Dor was a big stout man." 

Landolphe (II., p. 49) when speaking of the iron and copper used to decorate 
the interior of the houses, says that all artisans who distinguish themselves in their 
craft receive a patent of nobility. 

5| tusks. 



Fio. 270. — Cat-fish on plaque. 

Kiu. 269. — Degenerate 
Elephant's Head and 
Trunk, carved on Eleph- 
ant's Tusk. 

Fio. 271. — Bronze Morion, showing foils (three to 
six leaved) Diam. 266 mm.. Height 213 mm. Formerly in the 
possession of the late Miss M. H. Kingsley, now in the Pitt 
Rivers Museum, Oxford. 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

As there is probably hardly a traveller from Africa who has not recorded the 
art of iron smelting among the Negro or Bantu tribes, we may accept it as a fact 
that the art of smelting iron is a very old one in Africa. Bowditch {Mission to 
Ashanti, pp. 311-312) describes a method of gold casting on the Volta river, where a 
wood core was in use instead of a sand one. Quite lately Robinson {Haiisaland, 
p. 118) states that at Kano, " there are also on sale swords, spears, and many other 
articles made of native wrought iron. The article desired is first formed in wax, 
and from this a clay mould is made into which the molten iron can be poured." 
There is here, however, some complementary information wanting, for what is the 
object of going to the trouble of modelling and moulding if the article is to be 


Fig. 272. — Group of bronze female figures. Leyden Museum. 

beaten (wrought) afterwards ? Between the crude castings of the average native 
African and the fine results before us there is a vast difference, and hence the 
common expression of opinion that the art as we see it to have existed in Benin was 
an imported one, an opinion apparently confirmed by the numerous Portuguese or 
other European figures now discovered in Benin. On the other hand, we are still 
quite in the dark as to any existence of such high-class art in the Iberian Peninsula 
at the end of the fifteenth century ; and we know there was not much of this art in 
the rest of Europe. 

In the splendid series of plaques from Benin in the British Museum we find many 
plaques with diminutive Portuguese heads or figures in low relief in the back-ground 

The Metal Castings. 


Fig. 273. — Group of bronze figures, 
including four females with gourds 
rattle. (See fig. 103). 

(fig. 2). We may take it, I think, for granted that these additions in low reHef are, 
hke the rosettes (fig. 4) above referred to, after-thoughts put on to meet the desire for 
increased artistic effect ; that they are, in fact, put there for decorative purposes in 

the course of the development of the art. 
Hence, as the additions are always Portu- 
guese heads (or figures), and not Bini 
heads (or figures), we may, I venture 
to think, conclude that some of the plaques of 
native subjects without these additions were 
made before those of Portuguese subjects ; in 
other words, that the art was there before 
the Portuguese arrived in the country, and 
was just emerging from that of reahstic repre- 
sentations and begining to indicate some 
attempt in the direction of decoration. 

We have in the bronze plaque, fig. i, an 
illustration of a European, with a matchlock, in 
the costume of the middle of the sixteenth 
century, and Messrs. Read and Dalton very 
justly call attention to this, on account of the correct delineation of the dress of 
the period. It is therefore the middle of the sixteenth century that we can fix 
upon as the earliest date at which it was probable the Bini people had commenced 
to make plaques with European figures, but not the date at which they coinmenced 
to make any plaques at all. Benin was discovered by Sequeira, about 1472. By 
the middle of the sixteeth century {i.e., 1550) we have an almost perfectly accurate 
figure of a European, presumably made by a native. It is not conceivable that an 
introduced art could have developed at so rapid a rate that within seventy years 
(probably less, for the art would not have been introduced the first day) such a high 
pitch of excellence could have been attained by the natives ? As an alternative, 
I can only repeat, as above suggested, that the art existed in Benin prior to the ad- 
vent of the Portuguese, but that, as was the case with many other things with which 
the Portuguese came in contact, these remarkable explorers left their mark strongly 
impressed on this art work, and thus it may be that the natives began that series of 
borrowed forms which is so puzzling to us. But in an attempt to ascertain the origin 
of the Benin bronze art, we cannot pass over unnoticed the facts that several of their 
institutions show indications of exotic origin, and that the ornamentation is full of 
foreign forms. We find the law of inheritance different from that of the peoples of the 
surrounding country, probably as a result of the gross superstition which centred 
everything in the fetishism of the king. We find vestiges of the old Catholic 
ritual in more than one instance. We find that the internal division of the buildings 
are exotic arrangements. We find designs in wood-carving (fig. 245) which were 
common forms among the Hittites, and we have bronze and brass castings which 
bear undoubted traces of the influence of Europe of the middle ages. One of 
the patterns of a ring (fig. 22) is Graeco- Roman, another (fig. 21) we meet with 
in Tunis, a third (fig. 27) is like Saxon work, and on one of the bells (fig. 78) we find 
a double-spiral ornamentation of the old Swiss lake dwellers. The manilla (fig. 147) 
is almost Celtic in shape ; the squeezed-up lizard (fig. 113) might be Scandinavian. The 
mixture of the designs in fact almost equals that of the population of ancient Babylonia. 


234 Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horvors. 

One department of Bini art was of a high order and certainly a long way in 
advance of anything their neighbours could produce. On the other hand, their 
pottery was exceptionally crude, and their superstitions were of the lowest, although 
not primitive type, and quite on a level with those of Dahomey. Why there should 
be these contrasts in an obscure corner of Africa it is difficult to explain ; and we may 
well ask what could have made their bronze castings unique, for there is absolutely 
nothing like them in any other part of the world. With the advent of the Portuguese 
their quasi-civilization appears to have received a considerable impetus, then as 
European trade decayed, the people gradually fell back ; with the Dutch advent 
there was probably a second revival, only to collapse again as before. The Europeans 
did not love one another, as we read in the records, and in the carved work of the 
natives. Whether they did or not, or whether the country was poor or rich, the Europeans 
did not stay long at a time. This may have been due to the unhealthiness of the 
climate; but the probabilities are that the country never was good for traders, for had 
there been reasonable expectations of making money, Europeans would have perse- 
vered in spite of climate and native opposition. But it was not Europeans only 
who paid fitful visits. Capt. Landolphe records the arrival in Benin while he 
was there, in 1786, of an embassy from the interior of Africa, the members of 
which stated they at home founded cannons, and made all sorts of small arms. He 
thought they might possibly be Moors expelled from Spain, and although he talks 
of them as negroes, he adds " their hair was not frizzled like that of the people 
inhabiting the West Coast of Africa." (II., pp. 86-8), While we have of course no 
direct clue as to who these people were, they may have been merchants from the 
Haussa States, and this visit tends to confirm the opinion that in former days Benin 
was a state of considerable commercial importance. The trade relations of the 
Sonray empire, (which according to Barth,^ dates from a.d. 300) through the city 
of Tademaket ^ (which had traded with Egypt), were great, and direct commerce 
might have been established by such people as are mentioned by Landolphe, 
with the Mediterranean across the desert. Commerce and the intercourse 
it breeds is no doubt responsible for the large variety of forms in the art 
of the Bini, but it is hardly sufficient to account for the exceptional bronze 
plaques. It seems as though the only conclusion we can arrive at is that we 
have in them a form of real native art. This opinion is strengthened by the 
fact that we can trace to some extent in them progress and decadence ; 
and in the general carving and ornamentations we can see very clearly the 
process of the evolution of new forms out of the primitive realistic representation. 
At the present day, the method of casting the bronze and brass is in use by the 
Haussas, and possibly might not be indigenous, but the style is distinctly African, 
with numerous inroads of that of other peoples, and especially is such the case after 
the advent of the Portuguese. 

1 Reisen u. Entdeckungen, Gotha 1858, iv., pp. 417, 618. 
'^ On the Niger, nine days from Gogo, destroyed in 1460. 




Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, in 
compliance with the request of the King of Benin, hereby undertakes to extend to 
him, and to the territory under his authority and jurisdiction, her gracious favour 
and protection. 


The King of Benin agrees and promises to refrain from entering into any 
correspondence, Agreement, or Treaty with any foreign nation or Power, except with 
the knowledge and sanction of Her Britannic Majesty's Government. 


It is agreed that full and exclusive jurisdiction, civil and criminal, over British 
subjects and their property in the territory of Benin, is reserved to Her Britannic 
Majesty, to be exercised by such consular or other officers as Her Majesty shall 
appoint for that purpose. 

The same jurisdiction is likewise reserved to Her Majesty in the said territory 
of Benin over foreign subjects enjoying British protection, who shall be deemed to 
be included in the expression "British subject " throughout this Treaty. 


All disputes between the King of Benin and other Kings and Chiefs, or between 
him and British or foreign traders, or between the aforesaid King and neighbouring 
tribes, which cannot be settled amicably between the two parties, shall be submitted 
to the British consular or other officers appointed by Her Britannic Majesty to 
exercise jurisdiction in the Benin territories for arbitration and decision, or for 


The King of Benin hereby engages to assist the British consular or other 
officers in the execution of such duties as may be assigned to them; and, further, to 
act upon their advice in matters relating to the administration of justice, the 
development of the resources of the country, the interest of commerce, or in any 
other matter in relation to peace, order, and good government, and the general 
progress of civilization. 


The subjects and citizens of all countries may freely carry on trade in every 
part of the territories of the King, party hereto, and may have houses and factories 


All ministers of the Christian religion shall be permitted to reside and exercise 
their calling within the territories of the aforesaid King, who hereby guarantees to 
them full protection. 

ii Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovrovs. 

All forms of religious worship and religious ordinances may be exercised within 
the territories of the aforesaid King, and no hindrance shall be offered thereto, 


If any vessels should be wrecked within the Benin territories, the King will give 
them all the assistance in his power, will secure them from plunder, and also recover 
and deliver to the owners or agents all the property which can be saved. 

If there are no such owners or agents on the spot, then the said property shall 
be delivered to the British consular or other officer. 

The King further engages to do all in his power to protect the persons and 
property of the officers, crew, and others on board such wrecked vessel. 

All claims for salvage dues in such cases shall, if disputed, be referred to the 
British consular or other officer for arbitration and decision. 


This Treaty shall come into operation, so far as may be practicable, from the 
date of its signature. 

Done in triplicate at Benin city, this 26th day of March, 1892. 

(Signed) Ovurami, his X mark, King. 

H. L. Gallwey, Deputy Commissioner and Vice- 
Consul, Benin District, Oil Rivers Protectorate. 

(Signed) H. Haly Hutton. 
Allan H. Hanly. 
John H. Swainson. 
I hereby certify that I have interpreted the full purport. of this Treaty to the 
King, and that he clearly understands the nature of the contents and the meaning 

(Signed) Ajaie, his X mark, Interpreter. 



By FELIX N. ROTH, M.R.C.S., and L.R.C.P. 

Colonel Bruce Hamilton, Major Landon, Captains Carter, Ringer, and 
Searle, and Gregory, of H.M.S. ' Theseus,' myself, with 260 Protectorate troops 
one Maxim, two seven-pounders, and carriers, arrived at Ceri from the first landing- 
place, Warregi, at 4 p.m. on February 6th, 1897. We are up here before the naval 
men, in order to cut a path for them and clear ground for their camp, and look after 
its sanitary arrangements. As soon as we arrived we encamped in the native village ; 
pickets were out for the night, and just at the present moment the officer is 
going his rounds, the bugle having sounded the last post. It is a strange life, black 
troops lying about all over the place, laughing and gibbering like a lot of monkeys. 
A dull, cloudy night, and plenty of mosquitoes to keep us all awake, gives a man 
time to think what the future will bring, when once we have started into the Benin 

Ceri, February 7th. — I slept last night on the ground in a native hut, it being 
too late to rig up a bed or couch. This morning I looked after the sanitary arrange- 

1 Reprinted from the Journal of the Manchester Geographical Society. • 

Diary of a Surgeon with the Benin Punitive Expedition. iii 

ments of the camp for the naval column — that means we have to make everything 
comfortable for the naval brigade, which is expected on the loth or nth of February. 
We are called the advance guard, and have plenty of work. We cut roads, build 
trenches, get up stores from Warrige ; in fact, we have to do all the nursing, as it 
were, so that the naval men may not be exposed in the severe climate, and may have 
as little as possible to do. Searle and Carter are looking after the troops to-day, 
Landon and Ringer are busy with the carriers, arranging stores, and Gregory, of 
H.M.S. ' Theseus,'' is taking positions. 

Ceri, February 8th. — We are still at this place, getting things — houses, etc. — 
ready for the naval column. We did a lot of work to-day. I found a spring, and 
have dammed it up, so that a large number of men can draw water from it. To-night 
Major Gallwey, our Consul, and Executive Commander Bacon, have got a canoe 
and boys, and are reconnoitring up the Ologbo creek, to find out if there is any 
branch connecting with Benin City. We think there must be a branch, as we can- 
not understand how else the Benin City people can obtain their drinking water. It 
is rather a risky undertaking for the two men, but they are both cautious, and will, 
no doubt, bring back a lot of useful information. They cannot go during the day, 
as when we tried a little while back, one of our officers was fired upon. In so far as 
I can find out we shall cut a road from Ceri to a position opposite Ologbo Town, 
which is a few miles distant from here. We shall then shell Ologbo itself, land some 
black troops, and build a suspension bridge, which has been prepared by the naval 
men. The span is about 70 or 80 yards ; we are not sure of the length, but shall 
know in a day or two. We shall then most probably form a big base there, land the 
naval brigade and stores, etc., and make a start to cut the bush path which leads to 
Benin. The following is to be the order of procedure :— Captain Turner, of the 
Protectorate, will scout with about 60 Bonny men, the same who did the scouting 
for the Ashanti Expedition in 1873. These men will work through the bush to find 
out where the natives may be lurking ; they will be supported by our black troops, 
but how many I do not know. Then come the bush cutters and more black troops, 
with two doctors, one being myself. We shall do this till we get close to Benin, when 
a naval column will come up and help to take the city. This is to take place within 
seven or eight days. There may be a little fighting, but such care will be taken that 
I think few men will be killed. Ubini is the native name for Benin City. So far all 
the white men are fit ; I trust few will go down with fever. 

Ceri, February 9th. — It is really quite a sight to see the black troops quartered 
in this native town of Ceri ; there are 250 of them. One is tumbling over them all 
day, or rather all night, as during the day they are hard at work in the camp which 
we are making for the white troops here. The officers' mess is also quite a sight ; we 
are thirteen, all told. Searle, who is working like a nigger all day building huts in 
the camp, is also looking after all the provisions for the mess, and I am mess presi- 
dent, looking after the food, of course, and bossing the black boys and cook, and 
seeing that the water is boiled before distribution. I seem to be busy all day, and 
when night comes I feel that very little has been done. Last night we sounded the 
assembly, so as to get the men to their posts, just as if we were having a night 
attack from the natives. The men turned out well ; they were all dressed and in 
their accoutrements and at their posts in about two and a half minutes, which is con- 
sidered very good. After inspecting them, to see that they had come to their proper 
places, we dismissed them to their quarters. The gunners under Searle were 
prepared for action in the short space of two and a quarter minutes, all fully 
equipped. It seems strange to sit under a thatched roof on four posts, and eat one's 
food in the open, and then after dinner to clear away and write letters. As I sit here 
at the present moment a big ant walks calmly over my paper, or some other insect 
drops from the roof down my neck ; as of course we all wear shirts unbuttoned at the 
neck, we give the insects, etc., every chance. Then, again, the chattering of the 
native troops is rather astonishing, one would think we were really amongst a lot of 
women ; unfortunately we are not, God bless them all the same. Many amongst us 

iv Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovrovs. 

will wish for their tender care to nurse us as we go down with the fever, or by the 
enemy's shot. 

Ceri, February loth. — I have had a talk with Locke and Boisragon. It seems to 
me some of the members of the Mission might have been saved, but the order not to 
carry arms prevented them making any effectual resistance. Yet there must have been 
some sort oftreachery, as the King of Benin, to a certain extent, was willing they should 
come up and see him. Besides, the Bini did not attack them at once, as they wished to 
find out if the expedition were armed or not, and also have time to make an ambuscade. 
All the white men who were massacred behaved well. Dr. Elliott again and again 
rushed in among the natives, who were several deep, and who were armed with long 
flint-locks, and although he was fired at, he struck right and left at them with only a 
stick. Poor MaUng, too, did his best, and like Crawford, while dying, told the others 
to run for their lives and leave him. A pity such fine men should fall in such a treacher- 
ous manner. "Little Chumpy" has a seven-year-old nigger servant, who has been 
taught, whenever he brings a drink to anybody, to say the following : — " God bless the 
Queen, and I hope you will knock hell out of the King of Benin." He says this while 
saluting, with a most serious face. The Admiral Sir Harry Rawson and Staff, with 
our Consul-General, came up to-day to look about the place ; it was astonishing how 
he managed to walk the distance from Warriga to Ceri, it was so very hot. He will 
be carried back, and quite right, too, as he is rather a heavy man. Captain Egerton, 
who is at the head of the staff, decided, in consultation with the others, to build a 
bridge across the Ologbo creek, about half a mile higher up the creek than this 
village of Ceri. It w411 be a swinging one, made of steel wires, and attached at either 
end to trees on each side of the creek, which we find is about 120 feet across, some- 
thing like the old chain pier at Brighton, the footpath being swung in the same 
manner. The gear for the same will be brought down the river to-night, and to- 
morrow the engineers start work in earnest. While this is going on a party of black 
troops, over one hundred strong, with a seven-pounder and a Maxim, will reconnoitre 
inland for about a thousand yards. We shall have scouts in advance, and I am to 
accompany them as medical officer ; I hope the natives will not spot any of us. We 
know of, and also notice, natives in hiding opposite Ceri. We are also to be sup- 
ported by an armed launch and surf boats full of men well armed with Maxims and 
rifies. I heard to-day we are most probably to make a start for Benin on the nth, 
but I think it must be later. Before I proceed I must mention that a column called 
the Sapoba Column is to go to Sapoba, and is to consist of men from H.M.S.'s 
Phcehe, Alecto, and Wigeon. Another column, the Gwatto, is to consist of men from 
H.M.S.'s Philomel, Bavossa, and perhaps Magpie. This last column is to destroy 
all the Bini towns on the eastern bank of the Gwatto creek as far as Ikuro. 
Both columns are to be assisted by canoes, and are to patrol the river with 
their boats, and prevent fugitives from passing. Seven more men joined our 
mess to-night at a moment's notice. Their chairs were ammunition boxes — one dish, 
the piece-de-resistance, was a washing basin containing an Irish hash. Being short of 
knives and forks, one man was obliged to have a mouthful, and then pass the table 
cutlery to the next man. 

Ceri, February nth. — The boat scouting party, which started this morning, con- 
sisting of a hundred men under Colonel Hamilton, went up the river about a mile and 
a half, and landed on the other side, where a few huts were seen. From there a short 
trip was made into the bush, but the ground being very swampy, it was obliged to 
return after traversing only a few hundred yards. Another party, under Searle, with 
the same number of men, a Maxim and seven-pounders, acted as reserve on this side 
of the river. It is now found to be impossible to throw a bridge over the creek, and 
to-morrow a party is to make a start from Ologbo towards Benin. All the Protector- 
ate troops, under Erskine and Turner, will cross the Ologbo creek. The scouts to 
proceed first, to see that we are not ambuscaded. Colonel Hamilton will be in com- 
mand, and I am to go as medical officer. VVe have been busy all day preparing loads 
for the carriers. I am in charge of the mess and the mess gear, and, as the fellows 

Din)')' of a Surgeon wiih the Benin Punitive Expedition. v 

are a hungry lot, it can be easily imagined what a work I shall have to do to feed 
them. Up till now they have been very good, and have hardly grumbled or sworn 
at me at all. Captain Boisragon is invalided, and leaves for home at once ; we do 
not think he is fit for active service, as he is still suffering from a shock due to his 
very severe experiences during that awful massacre of a month ago. The weather 
is very hot and very dry for this country ; it has not rained since we arrived here a 
month ago. I have asked Consul-General Moor, in case I am knocked over, to sell 
all my effects ; we expect some heavy bush fighting to-morrow. A marine from 
H.M.S. Theseus died yesterday from heat apoplexy, but this is nothing, as many 
more will go down similarly. At present the men are in splendid condition. I have 
just heard that there has been a brush with the natives at Gwatto, four blue-jackets 
and an officer wounded. I am too busy to write more news, but I hope to do so to- 
morrow. We had a little surprise to night, as some shots were fired into camp, and 
the fellows got startled. 

Ologbo, February 12th. — We started from Ceri yesterday, at about six p.m., in 
the launch Primrose and in surf boats, with 250 black troops, two Maxims, one 
seven-pounder, and half a company of blue-jackets, with one Maxim and a rocket 
tube. As I got my orders about half an hour before we started, I was unprepared. 
Luckily, I always have my waterbottle filled at night, but I had no rations. As I 
passed the admiral's quarters I noticed a nice block of naval chocolate lying neatly in 
some paper outside his door. I stole that chocolate. We went up the Ologbo creek 
for about three miles, until we reached Ologbo. We shelled the village, and cleared 
it of the natives. As the launch and. surf boats grounded we jumped into the water, 
which reached to our waists, at once placed our Maxims and guns in position, firing 
so as to clear the bush where the natives might be hiding. We rushed on some 
hundred yards, again put our guns in position, and, in conjunction with volley firing, 
again cleared the bush. We expect the second division to come up to our support in 
about two hours' time, as we sent the launch and surf boats back to fetch them. 
While holding the place the natives crept up to us several times, howling at the top 
of their voices, and firing into us. They attacked us first in the front, and then on 
each flank. Luckily we kept them at bay with volley firing and our Maxims, and 
only Captain Koe, of the N.C.P. Force, was severely wounded in the wrist. But 
luckily several other officers and men were hit by spent bullets only. After that we 
had drinks, and enjoyed the Admiral's chocolate. Soon afterwards more men came 
up, and we took our troops into the bush and cleared the natives out as well as 
possible. This path to Benin City is only two or three feet broad, allowing some- 
times two men to walk abreast, but as a rule the men are obliged to walk in single 
file. The natives showed some cuteness, for on one side of the road they had cut a 
track for some hundreds of yards, so as to be able to fire on us as we went up. 
Luckily for ourselves, we found this ambuscade at once, thanks to our scouts, and 
troops were sent up it. We went straight on for about three-quarters of a mile, with 
Maxims working in front and on the flanks ; at the same time volley firing was kept 
up by the troops, so as to clear the bush on each side of us. We arrived at a small 
village, which we cleared with Maxims and rockets, and then rushed it, the natives 
clearing out right and left. We then put out pickets all round the place, and under 
their cover troops and carriers cut down the bush, so as to clear the place and allow 
us to see in case we were attacked by the natives. We camped here for the night, 
putting out double sentries everywhere. We shall remain here till we get up our 
supplies, consisting of ammunition, rations for officers and men, and particularly 
water, which has always to be boiled. The usual routine of bush fighting is to use 
the Maxims in the front, and to keep up volley firing on the flanks by the troops. 
The men then rush ahead and again clear the bush, and so on. This first division is 
under Colonel Hamilton, a most charming man, very quiet, and *'all there," very 
energetic and cool, too; the climate does not seem to affect him much, although it 
has been very hot and very damp. The bush looks lovely ; there are any amount of 
big trees about the place, and the green is of a rich colour, but it seems quite a mis- 

vi Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

take that there should be such a lot of hostile blacks about these quiet places. The 
village is, as usual, very straggling ; still it gives us good shelter at night. We have 
been lucky so far ; there has been no rain, and we all hope there will not be any 
before we get to Benin City. At Ologbo, Captain Campbell, of H.M.S. Theseus, 
in charge of second division, is making a camp, arranging everything, getting our 
supplies over from Ceri, boiling the drinking water, building a hospital, and making 
sanitary arrangements and all ready that may be necessary for a good camp. 

February 13th. — We had rather a busy and exciting day yesterday. About sixty 
black scouts, under Turner of our force and Erskine of the Navy, came up to-day to 
scout in advance of us to find out the movements of the natives. The Admiral had 
been rather seedy after his walk in the sun from Warriga to Ceri; he got overheated; 
but he told me he was better yesterday, and I think he will be all right to-day. Our 
bridge could not be made, as we should have to walk three miles through the swamp 
opposite Ologbo. I had a chat with Moor, our Consul-General ; he told me the 
following: On February loth Gwatto was attacked and occupied by naval men ; one 
officer and two men of H.M.S. Widgeon severely wounded, one officer and one 
man of H.M.S. Philomel slightly wounded. On February nth Sapoba and 
roads at back w^ere occupied by naval men. Whilst stockading camp there Pritchard 
and one man of H.M.S. Alecto were killed. So our column so far has fared the 
best ; but it won't last long, and we shall have to fight our way up to Benin City. 
Some more men have gone down with sunstroke, but I have not seen or heard 
of any cases of malarial fever yet. Smallpox has broken out among some of the 
Sierra Leone carriers ; but it is of a mild sort of form, and somehow it has never 
been known to ha\'e been communicated by the blacks to the white men. We make 
another start late to-day or to-morrow ; we have seen no natives since yesterday, but 
some have crept up and fired into us. We believe they are concentrating their forces 
at the next village, or somewhere on the road to Benin City, for their final stand. Of 
course they may ambuscade themselves and try to stop us, but we shall succeed in the 
long run, however many men we may lose. We are now in the Bini Country, and 
the houses in the villages are thatched in a different way from the other villages we 
have passed so far. They are covered with leaves only, tied up in bunches, and not 
with big palm leaves. Then again, the walls are made with split wood, and not of 
mud, as in the other places. We shall have great difficulty in getting water up 
here, and it is uncomfortable to be without it. We are dirty and dust-begrimed ; 
unshaven, and sticky ; our clothes are wet, and at night all the horrid animals of the 
bush crawl over us and sting us. 

Cross- Road Camp, February 15th. — We left the Ologbo Camp yesterday morn- 
ing at 6 a.m., but a little before 3 a.m. we had a night alarm, the natives came round 
part of the camp, beat the tom-toms for our edification, and kept us awake and on 
the alert, ready for our start. Allman, the principal medical officer, and myself, of 
the N.C. Protectorate, dressed and got pottering round, getting our carriers in order, 
and collecting stretchers and hammocks for the wounded. Well, we started at day- 
break. Colonel Hamilton in command, with 260 black troops, one rocket tube, two 
Maxims, one navy Maxim, two seven-pounders, a company of marines, and forty 
scouts. We proceeded up the Benin road for about three miles, when the natives, 
who were in ambush, fired upon us again and again. We cleared them out with 
Maxims and volley firing several times, but they again came on and fired into us. 
We again cleared them out of the bush with the Maxims and forced them to retire, 
and after our column had done another mile or so, we formed camp for the night. 
Our firing was pretty hot, the rattling of the Maxims and rifles, the shouting of the 
ofiicers, the howling of the enemy, and the excitement amongst our own carriers 
are beyond me to describe. The excitement in the dense bush, the smoke, the 
working of the seven-pounders, and the whizzing past of our rockets put the fear 
of God both into ourselves and the natives. I picked up one man shot through 
the thigh, and another through the lungs. Luckily no white men were wounded; 
we all got off scot-free. We marched in single file, the scouts in front, followed 

Diary of a Surgeon with the Benin Punitive Expedition. vii 

by a half company of black troops under white officers, then followed a Maxim, 
with one in reserve ; myself, with stretcher party, were close behind them. We 
seem to be doing all the fighting up at this end of the column. I cannot tell the 
order of the middle and rear part of the column, which is nearly three miles long, 
being much too busy at my end. We had now cleared the natives out of their camp, 
and the troops, in conjunction with my stretcher party, started to build a hospital. 
This consists of four upright posts, fixed into the ground, and lashed together at the 
top with cross-pieces, all tightly fixed together by a native creeper called " tie-tie." 
The roof consists of the hammocks laid on the cross-pieces. Being at the head of 
the column, where all the fighting takes place, most of the wounded come under my 
hands first. Every time a man is wounded the whole column stops, the path being 
so narrow we can only march in single file. It is impossible for me to do much for 
the wounded. If a man is bleeding badly I simply put on a tourniquet or dressing, 
and leave him on the side path, to be picked up by Allman and his stretcher party, 
who are at the rear of the column. By the time I have built my hospital Allman 
comes up with the wounded and the field cases, and we at once start to do our best for 
them. Everybody has complimented us on our arrangements, and the quick way we 
erect our hospitals. We make the poor wounded chaps as comfortable as possible, 
and despatch them at once to our base at Ologbo. We sent a batch down to-day at 
3 p.m. I must mention that our black troops with the scouts in front and a few 
Maxims do all the fighting. I am the medical officer with them in the thick of 
everything. My black boy Charles carries my bag, which contains a few bandages 
and tourniquets, and I also with me four hammocks and four stretchers. In 
fact, I am the first aid to the wounded. Allman follows up with a field case and 
another stretcher party. We extracted the bullet from the wounded man's thigh, 
but could do nothing for the man who was shot in the lungs. These black men heal 
wonderfully well, and take everything as a matter of course. At about 3 p.m. part 
of the column started to burn a village, but after nearly losing ourselves in the bush 
and struggling through the same for seven miles, we were obligee], to return before 
dark, accomplishing nothing. Our camp is a great clearing made by the natives; 
the trees are nearly 120 feet high, with much foliage at the top, the sun hardly being 
able to penetrate down to us, which is lucky, as the place is thus kept cool. 

Obarate, February i6th. — We have to-day had a real lively and hot day, fighting 
our way through the bush. We left the camp at the Cross Roads at 11-15 a.m., as 
the first division entered it. After advancing for about two hours at the rate of one 
mile an hour, the enemy commenced firing at us along the whole line, which was in 
single file, and nearly a mile long. At two places the natives broke into us, but we 
soon cleared them off. At the head of the column, where I was, the firing was very 
heavy. Luckily no white man was hit, but I do not know what may happen later 
on, as we get nearer to Benin, where we are certain to meet with much greater 
opposition. One black soldier was shot in the head and killed, one native scout was 
shot right through the neck below the jaw, and one little carrier was shot in the 
cheek. These men were dressed and brought along with us, and ultimately sent 
back with an escort to the base. But I am digressing ; time after time the natives 
came on us, but our Maxims and volley firing cleared the bush, and we advanced 
steadily till we came to a clearing. It was a native camp, which the natives had just 
left, and part of the advance guard, going on, occupied the village of Obarate. It 
was soon taken, hardly any firing being necessary, as the natives had cleared out, and 
the rest of the advance guard coming on, we encamped there for the night. We 
were all very tired and slept well, although we first cut down the bush, and put 
sentries all round the place. The natives have never been known to attack at 
night ; this holds good all the world over, still we always take precautions. We have 
been short of water, and are sending some hundreds of carriers out to get some, and 
if it comes back in time we shall proceed to take the next village on the road to Benin. 
We can only get about two quarts of water daily per white man, so there is no wash- 
ing to be done, and we keep away from eiich other as far as possible, and as we have 


viii Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

no change of clothes, or very Httle, and as the weather is very hot, one can imagine 
the beautiful state we are in. From the last camp to this village is only about four 
miles, but fighting and stoppages kept us on the road from 11-15 a.m. to nearly 4 p.m. 
The village we are in is rather pretty. There is an avenue of cocoanut palms about 
40 feet apart, the road running between them ; outside this again are the native huts, 
extending two and three deep, the avenue being about a third of a mile long. We 
have had no orders about starting yet. One of the officers went away with some 
troops to look for water, and just now we hear firing, so I suppose the natives have 
been coming on again. I shall be glad when I am well out of this. We all think it 
is a settled affair that we shall get medals and clasps. I had to stop just now at 
about I p.m., as the natives kept crawling up and potting at us. Colonel Hamilton 
ordering us to get under cover ; I take advantage of it and write a few more notes. 
We have been busy all day ; the Admiral and Consul are coming up from the Cross- 
Road Camp. I hear we are to start to-morrow, the 17th, with the advance column, 
part of the first division, and some of the staff, so it will be a long one, extending 
over several miles, the men being in single file. The intention is to do the next seven 
miles to Benin as quickly as possible in two days, but it is hard to say whether we 
shall succeed, as we do not know the position of Benin City, and all the information 
we can get is from a dumb man and from a slave boy, who has only been there once. 
I think we are in a fairly safe condition now. We have just heard that a number of 
dead natives were found near Ologbo, who were shot down by our volley firing and 
Maxims, when we landed there for the first time some days ago. This morning I 
was sent out with a hundred men and officers and two stretchers with the scouts to 
reconnoitre about a mile off. We got to a clearing and rested. Suddenly the natives 
started potting at us. We returned the fire, but one of our scouts was shot through 
the head and killed ten yards from the path. The Admiral is not in very good health. 
In chatting with him he informed me he was all right bodily, but that he could not 
sleep at night, as he had so much on his mind with respect to the expedition. Moor 
looks very fit, perhaps a bit anxious, but otherwise very cheery, and always chaffing 
me. O'Farrell went down with fever as soon as he arrived at Ologbo, so he was 
sent back to the base. I am up with the advance column and at its head, continually 
under fire, so shall not be astonished if I come back with a bullet or two inside me. 
Considering the bush we have to get through, we have been very lucky so far. We 
have lost no white men yet, as they did on the Sapoba and Gwatto routes. But 
there the naval men had no black troops with them, and rather exposed themselves 
to the native fire. We know this sort of work, and are much more careful. Up till 
now we have only lost two and about four wounded, and one white officer wounded 
in the wrist. This is considered good ; in fact, it is not one per cent. We get no 
water for washing, and hardly any to drink ; what an awful-looking lot we shall look 
in a day or two ! I hear when we take Benin City the N.C.P. forces will hold the 
place, while the naval men will at once return to their ships, and if they get home at 
once will divide all the honours with the few Special Service officers who have been 
sent out here to help us, whilst we, poor devils, will be out here for another twelve 
months and get no kudos when we get home, although we are doing, and will be 
doing, all the heavy work ! But such is life ! I must hurry up as it is getting dark 
now. No news or despatches will be sent off till we take Benin City. We are com- 
pletely cut off from our base for the next two or three days, as the case may be. The 
Cross- Road Camp has been well fortified, and should we be badly attacked, that 
place will be our only hope. It is wonderful how thirsty all the men are here. 
There has been no rain ; marching in the sun is dry work, and all the native wells 
we have passed are empty. 

Awako Village, February 17th. — We left Obarate this morning with the Admiral 
and staff and Consul-General. Colonel Hamilton led the advance. Our scouts and 
black troops, under English officers belonging to the N.C.P. Force, with a Maxim or 
two, cleared the bush with volley firing at the head of the column, as usual. Admiral 
Rawson, Moor, and staff are in the middle of the column, which is about three miles 

Diavy of a Suvgeon ivith the Benin Punitive Expedition ix 

long. The carriers, who number about a thousand, carrying principally water, 
ammunition and food, are well sprinkled with marines and bluejackets. The column 
consists roughly of 250 N.C.P. troops, 120 marines, 100 bluejackets, 30 scouts, 5 
Maxims, 2 seven-pounders, 2 rocket-tubes, and about 6 medical men with stretchers, 
hammocks, and held cases. I was, as usual, at the head of the column, and continu- 
ously under fire. We left at 6-15 a.m. At 7 p.m. we came in contact with the 
enemy, a running fight being kept up till 10 a.m., when Agage village was taken. 
We had dislodged the enemy from two of their camps en rotite. We rested here one 
and a half hours, and made another start at 11-30 a.m. Again a running fight was 
kept up, on and off, till 3 p.m., the Maxims and volley firing clearing the bush, when 
we reached the village of Awako, which the enemy had deserted shortly before our 
arrival. En route we dislodged the natives from their camp, which they had formed 
near the road. It is hard to imagine what our nerves are like after firing away and 
being fired at for so many hours on a blazing hot day, and in dense bush, where the 
path is only broad enough for the men to walk in single file, and so dense that one 
cannot see more than a few yards on each side of one's self, and where we never get 
a glimpse of those who are potting at us. Anyhow we are all getting accustomed to 
it, and hope not to get potted, as we are so close to the city. We have cleared the 
bush around Awako, our usual routine, and camp here to-night. One man was shot 
to-day, and while making our camp to-night another was shot in the stomach and 
one in the face, but not seriously. We reckon we are about six miles from Benin 
City, and ought to take it to-morrow. The mind of the native is very obtuse so far 
as distances are concerned, and that is the distance we are told it to be, but, of 
course, it may be farther away than we expect. 

Benin City, February 19th. — We are now settled down in the above place. It 
is a misnomer to call it a city ; it is a charnebhouse. All about the houses and 
streets are dead natives, some crucified and sacrificed on trees, others on stage 
erections, some on the ground, some in pits, and amongst the latter we found several 
half-dead ones. I suppose there is not another place on the face of the globe so near 
civilisation where such butcheries are carried on with impunity. But to continue my 
narrative from the time I left off. On February the i8th we left Awako, with the 
whole force, our black troops leading. W^e marched from 6 a.m. to i p.m. without 
stopping, being fired on continually in the dense bush, which we returned with volleys 
from rifles and Maxims. At i p.m. we came to a clearing in the path, and about a 
mile ahead was the city. We put some rockets and seven-pounder shells into the 
place, and then started off again. Again and again we were fired into, and then 
suddenly diverged from the dense bush into the main thoroughfare leading into 
Benin, which is about 60 yards broad here. The firing was very hot. Then the enemy 
collected on the opposite side of the road in the bush and trees, and kept up a hot 
fire, killing and wounding a lot of our men. They had made a sort of embankment 
which, owing to the dense bush, could not be seen ; they fired over this and then 
dropped down, so that until some of our troops passed this place and the natives 
were afraid of being cut off, they peppered us fearfully. I was in the middle of it, 
and feeling most uncomfortable, dressing the men's wounds, and stopping their bleed- 
ing to the best of my ability. I did not like it at all, as I then noticed, by the ping of 
the bullets, that the natives must be using repeating rifles, the firing being so heavy 
and quickly delivered. I have never seen anything like it before ; the grass was in 
patches only about two feet high, and I was obliged to crawl with my black boy 
Charles from one wounded to another. Luckily the very severely wounded had been 
carried under cover by their comrades, and although I found several slightly wounded, 
with a little persuasion I managed to get them to crawl under cover by themselves, 
my stretcher party having disappeared, with the hammocks and stretchers, as soon 
as the firing commenced. Poor Captain Byrne and his company of 60 men were 
the ones that suffered most, the former being severely wounded in the spine, and 
sixteen of the latter killed and wounded. There was no naval doctor with these 
men, and as I was just in front, and seeing how they got bowled over, I was obliged 

X Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

to fall back and do my best for them. Ultimately I got under cover myself. While 
attending to the wounded I was informed that several more were lying out in 
the road, and as nobody volunteered to bring them in, I told my black boy Charles 
to do so. I could not go myself, as I was too busy tying up wounds, so Charles 
went out and brought in a wounded carrier. Shortly afterwards he again went 
out, followed by Lieutenant Beamish, and brought in a wounded marine. It 
was lucky neither of them was hit, as the natives tried to pot them from the 
ambush. All of us agreed that Charles behaved splendidly; he was very cool, 
and did not seem to mind the bullets at all, although they were hitting the 
ground and throwing up the sand around him. While under cover I noticed 
three of the men in a dying condition ; others were shrieking, cursing, and damn- 
ing the natives. One man implored me to let him have his revolver back, that 
he might shoot himself, the agony he suffered being so great. As I was leaning over 
him, trying to relieve his pain, unseen by me he pulled my loaded revolver out of its 
case, but I was just in time to knock it out of his hand. Afterwards he tried to get 
hold of a marine's rifle. The poor chap must have been suffering agonies, while all 
around him the wounded and dying were shrieking for water, blaspheming the 
natives, and crying for help ; others, again, were helping one another, tying up their 
wounds, and trying to staunch the bleeding. It was a curious sight to see the un- 
wounded, with their arms round the necks of the wounded, talking to them in tender, 
womanish words. Every now and again I could hear one man saying to another 
softly—" All right, don't give way, I'll look after you — I won't let the natives get at 
you — I'll kill and revenge those brutes," etc., etc. All these expressions, intermingled 
with oaths, but in a nice way, trying to soothe the wounded. I wish I could express 
here what I saw the men must have felt for one another. The whole thing was most 
heartrending. In the meantime the main column had rushed up the big thorough- 
fare, but what happened I cannot tell you, as I stayed behind with the wounded. 
Shortly afterwards the rear of the main column came up to us, and the poor, wounded 
men felt somehow safe again. By this time the head of the column had rushed the 
king's compound. After dispersing the natives with Maxims and volley firing, Benin 
City was ours. When the expedition started the authorities had only a slight idea of 
the position of Benin City. The fetish, too, being very strong in the Bini country, it 
was impossible for us to get any guides, and we had to rely for the path which led to 
Benin on two human beings — one being a dumb man and the other a small slave 
boy, as already mentioned. Between these two there was generally a discussion as 
to which was the direct and shortest road to the city. We always took our chance, 
and relied mostly on the man, and luckily hit off the right road the whole way. 

As we neared Benin City we passed several human sacrifices, live women-slaves 
gagged and pegged on their backs to the ground, the abdominal wall being cut in the 
form of a cross, and the uninjured gut hanging out. These poor women were 
allowed to die like this in the sun. Men-slaves, with their hands tied at the back, 
and feet lashed together, also gagged, were lying about. As our white troops passed 
these horrors one can well imagine the effect on them — many were roused to fury, 
and many of the younger ones felt sick and ill at ease. As we neared the city, sacri- 
ficed human beings were lying in the path and bush — even in the king's compound 
the sight and stench of them was awful. Dead and mutilated bodies seemed to be 
everywhere — by God ! may I never see such sights again ! Just before we came 
upon these horrors an old man appeared from behind a big tree which had fallen 
across the bush path we were following. He was using bow and arrows, and 
believed (as we were told afterwards) that he was invulnerable. He was, however, 
shot. In the king's compound, on a raised platform or altar, running the whole 
breadth of each, beautiful idols were found. All of them were caked over with 
human blood, and by giving them a slight tap, crusts of blood would, as it were, fly 
off. Lying about were big bronze heads, dozens in a row, with holes at the top, in 
which immense carved ivory tusks were fixed. One can form no idea of the im- 
pression it made on us. The whole place reeked of blood. Fresh blood was dripping 

Diavy oj a Suygcoji with the Benin Punitive Expedition. xi 

off the figures and altars (months afterwards, when we broke up these long altars, 
we found that they contained human bones). Most of the men are in good health, 
but these awful sights rather shattered their nerves. We sent a despatch with ten 
men to our camp at the Cross Roads ; whether it will reach or not we do not know, 
for we are cut off from everywhere at present. We are 300 white men, and w'ill pull 
through somehow, you bet. We put out strong sentries, and slept the night amongst 
this filth in the open. I must mention that both black troops (who led all the way, 
by the by) and all the white men behaved splendidly. All of you at home can be 
proud of them. Fancy the state of our nerves, for eight hours walking through 
dense bush, where one cannot see more than ten feet away what is happening on the 
flanks, and to be potted at again and again by hidden natives, and to see men hit and 
fall close to one. Of course our great enemy was the want of water, and this was a 
great trial to the men, in the hot and blazing sun. This morning half our column, 
with 300 carriers, scouted about for water, which we rather expected to find three 
miles off. Luckily we found it. There are many bullocks and goats about the 
place, so for the next few days we shall have plenty of rations. It is quite possible, 
while getting our water, we may be attacked, as the path which leads down to it 
enters a very narrow gorge. But, being well armed, I think we shall be all right. I 
must not forget to mention that when leaving Awako yesterday morning the natives 
attacked the rear part of our column, the casualties being (for the eight hours till we 
took the city) four white men killed, one being Surgeon Fyfe, R.N., and sixteen 
white men wounded. Captain Byrne being one of them, three N.C.P. black men and 
three carriers killed, one court messenger and one guide wounded. This was rather 
a heavy loss for such a small force. We have been getting the place into ship-shape 
to-day, February 19th, and trying our best to make it defensible. We are also col- 
lecting food and water, and sending down an escort to the Cross-Road Camp for all 
we may require. I hope our men will get through. We are all right for ammuni- 
tion, and can hold the place, if we get enough water, till the second division comes 
up. A party have gone out this afternoon to find and see the king's place ; they 
went down the main thoroughfare, and have just returned. The whole road is 
strewn with dead, crucified and beheaded bodies in all states of decomposition, most 
of them blown out to double their size by the strong rays of the sun. Ajuma's house 
(a big chief), near here, was burnt, the natives only firing a few shots at us. The 
ju-ju houses were also destroyed. We buried our dead to-day. Captain Byrne is 
better, but there seems very little hope for him. Three hundred yards past the 
king's compound the broad road which passes through Benin City is covered with 
bodies, skulls, bones, etc., most of the bodies being headless. The king's house is 
rather a marvel — the doors are lined with embossed brass, representing figures, etc., 
etc., while the roof is formed of sheets of muntz metal, and the rafters to support the 
same artistically carved. 

February 20th. — In front of the king's compound is an immense wall, fully 
twenty feet high, two to four feet thick, formed of sun-dried red clay. This wall 
must be a few hundred yards long, and at each end are two big ju-ju trees. In front 
stakes have been driven into the ground, and cross-pieces of wood lashed to them. 
On this frame-work live human beings are tied, to die of thirst or heat, and ulti- 
mately to be dried up by the sun and eaten by the carrion birds, till the bones get 
disarticulated and fall to the ground. There were two bodies on the first tree 
and one on the other. At the base of them the whole ground was strewn 
with human bones and decomposing bodies, with their heads off. Three looked 
like white men, but it was impossible for me to decide, as they had been there 
for some time ; the flesh was off their hands and feet, and the heads had been cut off 
and removed. The bush, too, was filled with dead bodies, the hands being tied to 
the ankles, so as to keep them in a sitting posture. It w^as a gruesome sight to see 
these headless bodies sitting about, the smell being awful. All along the road, too, 
more decapitated bodies were found, blown out by the heat of the sun ; the sight was 
sickening. To-day was occupied in blowing down these ju-ju trees. Passing through 

xii Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

the centre door of the big wall we came upon a large tree ; at its foot was a deep pit, 
which we noticed contained dead bodies. The natives, after sacrificing their victims, 
threw their bodies down there. On the first afternoon of our arrival our black troops 
heard faint cries coming from some of these pits, and letting themselves down came 
upon some live captives lying amongst the dead ones, in a very emaciated condition. 
They had been down there many days without food and water, intermingled with 
dead and rotting bodies. Some of these poor fellows had been carriers with Phillips' 
party, in the ill-fated expedition some weeks before. I found from them that all the 
white men in that expedition had been killed on the Gwatto road, and none had 
been brought into Benin City to be sacrificed, as the British public were once led to 
believe. One of the saddest sights, as we entered the big palaver house, was to 
notice the effects of the massacred white men. Amongst them we noticed Phillip's 
helmet in its case, a doctor's bag complete (which belonged to poor Elliot), while, 
scattered here and there, were their clothes, hats, boots, cameras, and other things so 
useful to men on the march. Of course we found no arms or ammunition, the 
natives having most probably used them against us. 

February 21st. — A great disaster took place to-day, which really will prove a 
blessing. About 3 p.m. a good breeze sprang up, and while this was blowing, two 
carriers carelessly set fire to a hut. Unfortunately the wind was blowing towards 
the part of the town where we were quartered, and although the fire was about a 
mile away, Allman and myself advised everybody to remove their effects from the 
native huts, but, not thinking the fire serious, the officers only removed the ammuni- 
tion to a safe place. The wind blew stronger, and the fire increased frightfully, the 
flames passing from house to house, and even setting light to the trees. As soon as 
we noticed it, we removed our medical stores ; the men tried to move their stores, 
but were too late, and most of them had everything burnt. Even the things w^hich 
had been placed in the middle of the big compounds caught fire, the heat being very 
great. In less than an hour the conflagration had burnt itself out, and the whole 
place was strewn with ashes. The next day we found what a blessing had come to 
us, for fire, smoke, and charcoal seemed to have removed all the smell, and the city 
became sweet and pure again. 

February 22nd. — At 8 a.m. the Admiral and stafl"left Benin City, with all their 
troops and wounded. They go down to Ologbo in easy stages, so as to give the 
latter every chance. Our black troops and officers lined the road through which the 
Admiral passed, and gave him three hearty cheers as he left with his men. To- 
morrow the N.C.P. forces start their heavy work again. The king has to be 
followed and caught, the country opened, and the natives so influenced as to gain 
their submission. I cannot help closing this article without a word of praise for my 
black Accra boy, Charles Nartey. He is about eighteen years old. Throughout the 
expedition he behaved splendidly under fire. Although he was simply my own boy, 
Consul-General Sir Ralph Moor ordered me to put his name down for a medal and 
clasp, for behaying so well, and bringing in two wounded men under a heavy fire. 



Pr will be remembered that when the Punitive Expedition against the King of 
Benin, for the massacre of Phillips' party, took the city on the 17th of February, 
1897, all the inhabitants with their king and ju-ju men fled into the bush. A portion 
of the houses surrounding the king's compound was blown up and destroyed, to 
enable the invaders to defend their positions should the Bini return to the fight, 

Suvveiidev and Trial of the King. xiii 

while two days afterwards, there occurred the great confla<:(ration which destroyed 
the city. Parties were sent out in search of the king, but the unknown country, and 
the impenetrable character of the bush, enabled him to elude his pursuers, although 
the latter frequently got on his track, and had sharp skirmishes with his " boys." 
The following account of the trial and deposition of the king, when he finally decided 
to give himself up, is taken vevhatini from letters written home at the time by my 
brother, then in the service of the Niger Coast Protectorate. 

On the 5th August, 1897, having become sick of his unaccustomed roaming 
bush life. King Overami came into Benin city with a large following, amounting to 
about 700 or 800 people, all unarmed, headed by messengers with a white flag in 
front. He was supported in the usual way by chosen men holding him up by each 
arm. Some twenty of his wives, who accompanied him, were of a very different 
class from those seen previously. They had fine figures, with their hair worn in the 
European chignon style of some years ago, really wonderfully done in stuffed rows of 
hair, the head not being shaved on top like that of the lower classes, and they wore 
coral necklaces and ornaments and hairpins galore. About ten chiefs came with 
him, including Aro a big chief, arriving by the Sapoba road, not by the water road 
as was expected. For obvious reasons, all the white men kept out of sight on his 
arrival. He was preceded by a native band using a sort of reed instrument, and 
took up his abode at the house of Chief Abeseke [Obaseke] , a member of the new 
Native Council established by the Resident. The king's party had a great " pow- 
pow" that night, and kept it up very late. The next day, on the 6th, the king rested 
after his fatigue, and on the 7th, at it a.m., he came down to the Palaver (Court) 
House^ with about 400 of his own "boys" (men), all of whom were stark naked, as 
was their custom in the presence of the king. He was also accompanied by about 
twenty chiefs, including Tosheri, the big war chief, besides Eschudi [Ushude] , Aro, 
and Ojumo [Ojomo] . The acting Resident (Captain E. P. S. Roupell) was seated 
at a table at the mouth of a small tent; with him were Captain C. H. P. Carter 
(Royal Scotch), commanding the troops at Benin city ; Lieut. Gabbett (Royal Welsh 
Fusiliers), and Dr. Howe. The king, who is a stout but fine man of considerable 
intelligence, about forty years of age, was in a very nervous state. The escort of the 
Resident comprised only eight Houssas, as it was considered advisable not to bring 
more, for fear of frightening the king and his party. The remainder of the Houssa 
troops were, therefore, kept under arms inside the stockade, ready in case of 
emergency to turn out at a moment's notice. The king was simply covered with 
masses of strings of coral, interspersed with larger pieces, supposed to be worth 
many pounds. His head dress, which was in the shape of a Leghorn straw hat, was 
composed wholly of coral of excellent quality, meshed closely together, and must 
have weighed very heavily on his head, for it was constantly being temporarily 
removed by an attendant. His wrists up to his elbows were closely covered with 
coral bangles, so were his ankles. He only wore the usual white cloth of a chief, 
and underneath, a pair of embroidered and brocaded trousers ; he had nothing in the 
way of a coat, but his breast was completely hidden from view by the coral beads 
encircling his neck. There was a crowd of some 900 to 1000 people standing round 
when the Resident called upon Overami, the king, to make his submission. The 
king was visibly agitated, and after much consultation with the chiefs, the chief Aro 
asked that the king might do so in private, as he did not like to abase himself before 
such a crowd. This request was naturally refused by the Resident, and then, sup- 

1 '• The term palaver, derived from the Spanish palabra, talk, has a very extensive meaning. It 
signifies dispute, controversy, argument, reasonings. War palaver, trade pala\er are used in 
reference to these affairs. God pala\er is applied to the missionary teaching; and sweet mouf 
[mouth] palaver is analogous in its meaning to the term 'blarney' with us." (Hutchinson: 
Impressions. Lond., 1858, p. 119). 

" Of the chiefs mentioned in this trial the following were nobles; Ojomo, Yaceri, Ollubusheri, 
Obaseki, Obadesagbo, Obanyagmo, Obahawaia, Ushudi, Idohun, Obamoi, Obajuhomua, Aro, Aribo, 
and Ewagwe." C. P. 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvovs. 

Fig 274. — Method of paying 
homage, or making submission, from 
a snap shot photograph by Dr. 

ported by two chiefs who assisted him, the king made obeisance three times in the 
usual manner, rubbing his forehead on the ground three times. After this, the other 

ten chiefs, who had not previously made obeis- 
ance, performed the same homage. The Resident 
then explained to the king the present political 
position of the Benin country, and informed him 
that he was deposed. That closed the palaver, 
the king retiring with his body-guard of 400 stal- 
wart men to Abeseke's house. Except to get the 
submission of the king and chiefs, nothing else 
could be done then, the Resident awaiting the 
return of the -Consul-General, who was expected 
to arrive at Benin city in from two to three weeks' 
time, when the big palaver would take place, and 
when the king and certain chiefs supposed to be 
guilty would be put on trial for the massacre 
of Phillips' party. Since the war, the king, it 
was said, had not sacrificed a single human being. 
The big palaver or trial for the massacre of 
the white men began in the Consular Court 
House, Benin city, on Wednesday, ist Septem- 
ber, 1897, at 4 p.m. The court house was guarded inside and outside by the Haussa 
soldiers ; a large crowd of natives came down with the king, but was not allowed 
to come within 50 or 60 yards of the court. There were present Sir R. D. R. 
Moor, K.C.M.G., Commissioner and Consul-General ; Captain E. P. S. Roupell, 
Acting Political Resident ; Captain C. H. P. Carter, Officer Commanding Troops 
Benin City ; King Overami, nine members of the newly established Native Council, 
and some 60 Chiefs of Benin City. 

There were no advocates on either side, and every witness was cautioned to 
speak the truth. The Consul-General opened the proceedings by stating that the 
palaver was not about the late fighting, because it was quite right that the natives 
should fight for their country, but that it was about the massacre of the unarmed 
Avhite men of Phillips' peaceful expedition. The palaver would be managed native 
fashion, that is, according to native custom and law, and not according to white 
man's law. The first thing to settle was to find out who instigated the massacre, 
whether the king or the chiefs ? 

The three witnesses on behalf of the British were Igbedio, ' a boy ' {i.e., 
dependant) of the chief Obahawaie, Agamoye, a boy of the chief Obassieki, and 
Wobari, another boy of Obahawaie. They all acknowledged that they knew before- 
hand that all the white men were unarmed, and that they with many others were 
sent by the chiefs to kill the white men, Jekries, and Kru boys ; which they did, and cut 
off the white men's heads and sent them to Egoru. One member of the ill-fated 
expedition who was not killed outright, was taken to Benin and thence to Egoru, 
where the boys of the chief Ochudi killed him. Before the massacre a chief named 
Idahie passed them, with the white man's stick, ^ on his way to the king. They 
averred that the chiefs present at the massacre, viz., Ologbosheri [Ollubusheri] , 
Obahawaie, Obaiuwana [Obaynagmo] , Usu, Ugiagbe [Ujiagbe] , and Obadesagbo 
[Obaradesagmo] were those by whose instruction the white men were killed. 
Obahawaie was said to have been seen cutting off a white man's head, but of 
the others only their boys were seen doing this. On the strength of this evidence, 

1 This is the stick mentioned by Boisragon as having been borrowed from him by Phillips, in 
order that the messenger might have a token of the peaceful disposition of the Expedition to show 
the king. It has always been the custom to send a stick as a proof that the messenger is bond fide. 
Nana, Dudu, Ocorowala, Chinomi, Dore and all the Jekri chiefs have been in the habit of having 
costly sticks with embossed silver heads presented to them, and these were the sticks sent with the 

Surrender and Trial of the King. xv 

the four chiefs Obahawaie, Obaiuwana, Ugiagbe, and Usu were taken prisoners. 
lUit 01)aiu\vana committed suicide with a knife he had concealed in his loin-cloth, on 
his being put in the guard room hut, which was quite dark at the time. Captain Koe 
was with him in the hut, searching the other two, when Obaiuwana cut his throat 
from ear to ear, whereupon his body was taken to the front of the king's compound 
and hung up for a day and then buried. 

When the court reassembled the four prisoners gave their evidence. Obahawaie 
told the court that for the last six years, since Nana's town was taken, the King of 
Benin expected white men would be coming to Benin city. For this reason a few 
of the fighting men were kept on the Gwato road as a guard to prevent the town 
being surprised. The king, Overami, did not know anything about the massacre in 
question, because he did not come out of his house, and even if he wanted to go 
anywhere, he merely would go near his fence and turn back. " If all the people of 
this town were in his court as we are here now, he had nothing to do with them. 
Whenever anything happened, the king would call the chiefs and tell them, and they 
did what they thought fit. We were in this town about five days before the massacre, 
having a big play,^ v\^hen we heard that white men were coming with war. The king 
then called the people, and told them ' the white man is bringing war — now if you go 
you must not fight with him — let them come, and if they like they can come and see 
me and say anything they have to say. Perhaps they are coming to play [to pay a 
friendly visit] ; you do not know, you must allow them to come and if it is war, we 
will find out.' " But the big chiefs, amongst whom Ologbosheri and lyasheri 
[Yaceri] were specially mentioned, overruled the king's orders, and in spite of his 
(Obahawaie's) protests ordered him to massacre, saying other men would be sent to 
kill him if he did not destroy the white men. He went so far as to say that the king 
had even offered kola nuts to lyasheri, begging him not to fight the white men. He 
acknowledged the white men were quite unarmed, and that even the cutlasses of the 
carriers had been tied up and put away in the launch. The chiefs who he said were 
present at the massacre were Arabato, Osague, Usu, Obamoye [Obamoi] , and 
Obajuhomua, while the following chiefs sent boys : lyaja, Aiyeboha, Osagwe, 
Obaseki, Ine, Ihanre, Obajnaie, and Ahando. He said while he was talking to 
Isayeri's messengers he heard firing, and a white man ran past him, whom none of 
his people touched. 

Usu likewise defended the king, saying : " The king called me and sent me to tell 
the people not to kill the white men. If they brought war to catch the king, or they 
came to play with him, the people must allow them to come. The king said since 
he was born there had not been any white men killed in Benin city, so no white man 
must be killed." He said that Ologbosheri had countermanded the king's orders, 
saying lyasheri had threatened to kill him if the white men were not killed. He 
complained of one of his boys attacking the Expedition and so getting him into 
trouble, as he did not get to the scene till the massacre was over ; but Igbedio con- 
tradicted this saying he was there before. Usu also stated that the wounded white 
man was being taken to the city by Omaregboma, when one of Ochudi's men killed him. 

Ugiagbe told the court he was stationed at Egbini, in order that when a white 
man came from the Jekries he could take him to the king and bring him back. He 
said he had protested against the war, but being a small boy he was told to shut his 
mouth, being overruled by Ologbosheri and Obadesagbo, and that Ojuma had also 
been sent to fight. He was not sent by the king. 

Omaregboma, who was stationed at Gwato to take white men to the king, said : 
" Ohebo came and met me at Gwato, and told me that the chiefs sent him to say 
that they had heard that plenty white men were coming, and I must send to tell the 
king what they brought. Ohebo had not come from Benin city yet when the white 
men came, and I allowed them a room where they put all their things, so I asked 

1 The big play was the ceremony of celebrating his father's death, and this was the reason the 
king gave to Phillips when he requested Phillips not to approach. 


xvi Great Benin^ — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

Ohebo to look at the things that the white men brought. They had neither guns nor 
swords. The only cutlasses that the carriers had were tied up and put in the launch ; 
I made Ohebo look at them so that he could tell the chiefs what they wanted when he 
came to Benin city. It was evening, so the white men slept at Gwato and in the morn- 
ing they started for Benin City. I undertook to lead them, so I was in front of them." 
The white men slept at Egbini, Herbert Clarke^ having requested him to go ahead 
to make preparations for them. He said he found the boys on the road waiting to 
fight the white men, and on seeing this went in search of Ologbosheri, to whom he 
went on his knees, imploring him not to kill the white men, but while he was doing 
this the massacre took place. One white man ran to him for protection, and he left 
him to find Herbert Clarke, who was still living, but he could not find the latter, and 
on his return was told Ochudi's boys had killed the other white man. He accused 
Usu of lying about this white man. He mentioned the anger and fear of the king 
when told of the massacre, and accused the following chiefs of implication in it : Usu, 
Obahawie, Ologbosheri, Obaiuwana, Obadesagbo ; he saw present boys of all the 
chiefs except those of Ojumo and Aro. 

Idiaie's evidence was to the effect that he was sent by the white man, who gave 
him a message with a stick to hand to the king. On meeting the chiefs Ologbosheri, 
Obadesagdo, Osague, Obahawaie, and Obaiuwana on the road, he told them that the 
white men were coming, but unarmed. Usu, whom he also met, told him he had a 
message from the king, to tell the people not to kill the white men. He handed the 
stick to the king with the message that the white men were not coming with war. 
" So the king sent me back to tell the people not to kill the white men. When I 
reached Ojumo's I met some Kru-boys and heard that the white men had been 
killed. Every time that the white men sent us with sticks, the sticks were alwa};s 
left in the house where the white men used to stay, called Owiabu ; so I left the 
white man's stick there." 

The great chief Aro told the court that the Jekries sent word to Benin that the 
white men were coming with war, at which news the king was much concerned, as 
since the time of his grandfather, no white man had made war against Benin ; 
neither the king nor Ojumo wished to fight. There was some doubt as to the white 
man sending sometime beforehand saying he was coming. He was of opinion the 
people did the massacre to bring trouble on the king. 

King Overami's statement was largely to insist that he had always been a friend 
to the white man, exchanging presents with him, allowing him to visit Benin, and 
that his orders were that the white men were not to be killed. 

The prisoners were allowed to cross-examine, but the evidence of the three chief 
witnesses was not upset in any material point. The court adjourned until September 
3rd, when the Consul-General, having asked the chiefs what was the law in case of 
killing, and being told by chief Alea ' the native law is that if a chief kills a chief, a chief 
must be killed,' summed up by saying that seven white chiefs having been killed, seven 
native chiefs must be killed; but as the king and others had for some years been 
under the impression that the white man was coming with war, there was a natural 
doubt in their minds, when Phillips' party came, as to whether it meant war ; as 
to defend their country was a proper thing, he would give the king and chiefs 
the benefit of the doubt; but as regards the chiefs who were present at the massacre, 
after learning that the white man was not bringing war, there could be no doubt in 
their case, and the court found that Obaiuwana, Olgobosheri, Obadesagbo, Usu, 
Obahawaie, and Ugiagbe were all guilty of the murder of Phillips' party on the 
Gwato road on the 4th January, 1897. ^^ these, Obaiuwana had already committed 
suicide, Obadesagbo had died of fear of punishment, and Ugiagbe, being a boy, was 
passed over. There remained then Ologbosheri still at large, who, in his absence, 
was condemned to be shot ; and Usu and Obahawaie who were condemned to be 
shot the next morning. Two chiefs being about to pay the penalty of their crimes, 

1 A half caste about 25 years of age ; educated in England ; Government interpreter. 

Siivvendev and Tvial of the King. xvii 

there remained five more to forfeit their Hves to make up the seven native chiefs to 
be killed for the seven white chiefs killed, but the natives, including the king, would 
be forgiven if they produced Ologbosheri to be executed for the part he had taken in 
the massacre. The Consul-General added that the five chiefs to suffer the penalty 
of the law would be chosen by him. This was considered diplomatic on his part, as 
all the chiefs would try to catch Ologbosheri, for none knew which of them would 
be chosen, the doubt as to the final decision giving them a personal interest in the 
capture. The Consul-General then remarked : " This is no idle threat, and I 
solemnly promise to do what I say." The natives, owing to their knowledge of 
the country naturally had a better chance of catching Ologbosheri than Europeans. 

On the first day of the big palaver, the king came down loaded with coral and 
with a coral hat ; the latter consisted of a tight fitting cap made of coral beads, and 
having two wings, one on each side, something like the old Viking's headgear one 
sees in pictures at the present day (See fig. 85). He seemed to take the proceedings 
with outward composure and sat mopping his brow all the time. The last day, he 
appeared in a black beaver hat, evidently belonging to Dudu, one of the Jekri chiefs, 
as it had this chief's name in large gold letters on the front. 

The execution of the two chiefs took place without any trouble. The Consul- 
General then waited to see whether there was any chance of capturing the real 
instigator of the Phillips' massacre, Ologbosheri. In the meanwhile, the Consul- 
General had explained to the king and the chiefs, who had now surrendered 
with their sovereign, what had already been told to the other chiefs, namely, the 
arrangements which had been made for carrying on the government of the country 
by the native chiefs themselves. Also that the king could no longer order the people 
about as before, but that proper villages would be apportioned to him, with 
servants, food, and all other necessaries as for a big chief, for lie would probably 
still be the biggest chief, that position depending upon his ability to govern. 
At the same time, the Consul-General proposed to take the king and two or three 
chiefs, with their wives and servants, on a tour for a year or so to Calabar, Lagos, 
and the Yoruba country to see how other lands were governed. The king and chiefs 
were to go home and discuss these matters, and especially what they proposed to do 
to catch Ologbosheri, and then come to the palaver house on the gth September and 
reply to the proposals of the Consul-General. They were specially warned not to 
leave the city, in answer to which the chief Ochudi naively said : " Overami will not 
go to the bush ; he has been there before and what is the use of his going back 
again." However, when the gth came, as the king refused to appear, the Consul- 
General sent Capt. Carter and Lieut. Gabbett with fifty men to take the king 
prisoner, and bring him down. The king, hearing of this, fled to the bush, so that 
when the detachment got to his house, no one was there. The Consul-General 
summoned the chiefs and said that if they did not find the king by 4 p.m. he would 
burn all the houses and shoot every chief ; this threat had the desired effect, and 
Ojumo stated that the king was in hiding at his compound about three-quarters of a 
mile away. Captain Roupell and a few men of the force found the king in a bush 
hut practically alone ; as the men entered he darted out at the back door, and eventu- 
ally ran into the arms of some of the search party. Had it been otherwise, all the 
force would have been obliged to take to the bush in the rains to search for him. 
The king was marched back to the palaver house, where the Consul-General sentenced 
him to be banished from his country for life. 

An officer was now ordered to take the king down to Gwato en voute for Old 
Calabar, on Monday, 13th September. The king's wives, some eighty in number, 
were handed back to the families they belonged to. The king proposed taking down 
two of his wives, and in the meanwhile he resided in the guard- room, closely watched, 
very downcast, and refusing all food pro\ided for him. He had some days 
previous to his attempted escape, offered the Consul-General 200 puncheons {£1^00 
worth) of oil to escape exile, and since then he offered in exchange for his liberty to 
disclose where his 500 ivory tusks were buried ; his coral, he said, had been stolen by 

xviii Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

his own "boys." On September 15th the king was brought safely down to Gwato 
by Capts. Carter and Henniker, and placed on the Protectorate yacht at anchorage 
below Gilli-Gilli. Capt. Carter was left in charge of him. The king was agitated and 
violent w^hen awakened at 4 a.m., but was put in a hammock and strapped in; he 
commenced to holloa, and consequently had to be gagged so as to get him out of the 
city before day-light without any row, which was effectually done. With this excep- 
tion, which was a necessity, the king was treated throughout with every courtesy. 
The party consisted of sixty men protected by a Maxim so as to be able to overcome 
any opposition which might possibly attempt a rescue, though this was improbable. 
His majesty took everything he saw on the yacht very philosophically, although 
he had, like his predecessors, not been outside the city walls since he w^as 
made king, and was only accustomed to leave his compound once or twice in a year 
to shew himself to his subjects. The only things or beings he craved for were his 
two wives, who followed him with the Consul-General's party and joined him a few 
weeks afterwards. 

The difficulty the British experienced in dealing with the king was due to the 
fact that he was himself a big ju-ju, in which the natives had unbounded confidence. 
They believed he would never be captured, and that if the British did succeed in 
arriving at the city, he would turn into a bird or some animal and so escape. Nor 
was he considered bloodthirsty by his subjects. The whole system of massacres was 
part and parcel of their daily life, to which they were thoroughly accustomed, and if 
they blamed anyone it was the fetish priests, not their king. Besides, it was mostly 
the slaves who were sacrificed. It was, therefore, judged probable that a rescue 
might be attempted, which would only lead to further bloodshed and prevent the pacifi- 
cation of the country, already too long delayed by the king's six months' sojourn in 
the bush. The removal of the king was also desirable, to show the people the 
uselessness of their resistance to the white man's power, 

After considerable bush-fighting Ologbosheri was captured on the 27th May, 
1897; h^ was brought to trial before a full court and condemned to death on the 
27th June, for being the chief instigator of the murder of the members of Phillips' 
expedition. He was ha.nged on the 28th June, 1897. His trial confirmed the verdict 
of the court which sat on the king, namely that Ologbosheri, and not Overami, was 
the prime instigator of the massacre. 


When on the return of the members of the Punitive Expedition it became 
known that fine specimens of bronze castings and ivory and wood carvings had 
been found in the old city of Great Benin, Mr. Charles H. Read, the Keeper of 
Antiquities at the British Museum, with characteristic energy at once endeavoured 
to secure for the national collection good representative specimens of these bronzes, 
and he succeeded in gathering together the finest collection of plaques that is to 
be found in any. Museum. But owing to the want of proper pecuniary support, he 
was not able to obtain possession of any of the more expensive, and in many cases 
equally interesting, articles. Not only was the national institution thus deprived of 
its lawful acquisitions, but at the same time another government department sold for 
a few hundred pounds a large number of castings which had cost thousands to 
obtain, as well as much blood of our fellow countrymen. Hence it is that so many Bini 
articles are not represented at all at Bloomsbury. Had it not been for the well-known 
mterest which the late General Pit-Rivers took in such subjects, a still larger portion 

On the British Loss of Antiqu'e Works of Art from Benin. xi\ 

of these articles would have been lost to us for ever. Money with him being no ob- 
ject, he purchased largely and succeeded in making a very varied and, therefore, most 
interesting collection, which is still to be seen in his Museum at Farnham. From 
w^hat I can ascertain, the bulk of these bronzes has been secured by the Germans, 
and it is especially annoying to Englishmen to think that such articles, which for 
every reason should be retained in this country, have been allowed to go abroad. 
Not that I wish to, nor do I blame the Germans in the least for what they have 
done, but it is only one more example of their alertness, and of our apathy. These 
articles have been lost to us, directly through the want of funds, but indirectly owing to 
grave omissions on our part in times gone by, to circumstances indeed which unfor- 
tunately continue. To many, this loss is apparently a small matter when compared 
with great domestic questions of the day, nevertheless the principle involved is an 
important one. 

For many years the Germans have foreseen that the study of native races and 
their development, a study known to us under the awkward name of Anthropology, 
is essential to every civilised community which trades with, or is called upon to 
govern native communities, and wdth their characteristic thoroughness they have 
become leaders in a branch of science in which the Americans alone have been able 
to equal them, and, as it now appears, are about to outstrip them. To arrive at this 
position the German ethnologists have always been sympathetically dealt with by 
their Government ; and when the Government can no longer supply the funds, I am 
told the Kaiser, on application being made to him, will put his hand in his pocket, 
and w^hen that source is closed the wealthy German merchants are not appealed to 
in vain. For such gifts they will receive their Sovereign's approbation. Similarly, 
in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, when a museum is in want of funds, an 
appeal is made to local merchants, and in a few hours the necessary money is col- 
lected. Such measures for collecting money do not appear to have been tried in 
England, and if tried it is doubtful what success such an attempt would meet with. 
There remains the fact that with us the native races are not adequately studied, and 
we are consequently handicapped politically, scientifically, and commercially in com- 
petition with other nations. 

Politically, it is of the first importance that our governing officials should have a 
thorough knowledge of the native races subject to them — and this is the knowledge 
that anthropology can give them — for such knowledge can teach what methods of 
government and what forms of taxation are most suited to the particular tribes, or to 
the stage of civilization in which we find them. In connection with this, there can 
be no doubt that with adequate knowledge much spilled bloodshed could have been 
saved in the past, both on our frontiers and in our colonies. 

Scientifically, the loss is great from whatever point we look at it, and it is not 
lessened by the painful feeling that our successors will condemn us for neglecting 
to make use of our opportunities — opportunities which they will never have, either to 
use or abuse — and take steps towards attempting to give them adequate records of the 
native races of our times. Unlike the Tasmanians or the ancient Peruvians, the 
West African will never be wiped off the face of the earth, but intercourse with 
the white man alters his beliefs, ideas, customs, and technology, and proper records of 
these should be made before we destroy them. The destruction is going on apace, 
one of the chief contributory causes being the unsuitable European teaching given 
to the native races generally — unsuitable to them on account of the wide physical 
and mental differences that exist between the white and black man. Miss Kingsley 
put the point with her usual smartness when she said at one of the meetings 
of the Fellows of the Royal Colonial Institute, that "an African is no more an un- 
developed European than a rabbit is an undeveloped hare." All the same, we conduct 
our intercourse with the African just as though he were an individual who could be 
turned into a European. That he has great possibilites no one will doubt, but a good 
general knowledge of native races would prevent us making such grave mistakes as 

XX Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

Of the historical value of the study of native races, there should at the present 
day be no question. This study has not only assisted classical students in the elucid- 
ation of many doubtful points in the history of the Greeks and Romans, but it is of 
extreme importance in explaining to us so much that would be otherwise obscure in 
the study of the growth of our national institutions. 

At the British Association meeting held at Ipswich in 1895, Professor Haddon 
in deploring the inattention paid to the study of native races in England, pointed out 
that if an Englishman wished to learn anything about the coloured peoples under 
British sway without actually visiting them, he had to go to Berlin to do so.^ To put 
this statement in a different form, it means that we have to pay other countries for 
information which we ought to have within our own doors, for it means that we must 
spend money to go abroad to get the knowledge, and it also means that we must buy 
foreign books when we ourselves should be the suppliers to foreigners. By a knowledge 
of native races we get to learn what they want, and by a method of systematic publica- 
tion of information about the natives, valuable assistance could be rendered to our 
traders, very much in the same way as we are served by Consular Reports from 
foreign countries. A short time ago Lord Salisbury, at the suggestion of the 
Keeper of Antiquities at the British Museum, agreed that it was advisable to collect 
anthropological information for arrangement and diffusion by an Ethnological Bureau, 
but was unable to make arrangements to carry out such a scheme, because 
there were no political leaders who cared to give him the necessary support. 
A very distinguished African traveller and administrator, in fact, probably 
our most successful African administrator of the day, is inclined rather to blame 
the public, than public men, for this apathy, saying the leaders would make a 
move if the public demanded it. But the leaders are there to lead, not to be led. 
Where indeed would Germany be now if she had waited for public opinion to raise 
the question ? It was her able, far-seeing leaders in times gone by who made 
her present prominent position for her. And who are the Governors of our Colonies 
who have been most successful in dealing with the native races under their charge ? 
They are men like Sir Wm. McGregor and the Rajahs Sir James and Charles Brooke, 
in Sarawak. In New Guinea, Sir Wm. McGregor encouraged his officials to study 
the natives, with the result that they became interested in those they were put over 
to govern and governed them wisely. Sir William is now repeating his New Guinea 
success in Lagos. Of one of Sarawak's governors, Dr. Chas. Hose and his youthful 
aide-de-camp, it was pithily said, at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, 
that he and a boy governed a district over 10,000 square miles in extent — and he 
could do so simply because he had studied his subjects and required no physical force 
to aid him to keep order. This is a very different policy from that adopted by a 
Governor of one of our older West African colonies, who refused a medical officer, 
an official of the colony, permission to study the natives. 

It has been of late the fashion to decry the older universities, but strangely enough 
as regards this study, they are the only seats of learning in England where the student 
can obtain the knowledge he is in search of.^ At Cambridge, Professor Haddon 
has set to work to remedy the state of things he deplored when at Ipswich, and 
with contagious enthusiasm has gathered round himself a band of energetic young 

^ The Germans took possession of the Samoa Group, some four years or so ago, and have already 
in the press an excellent Gazetteer, which gives a most useful account of the native population. We 
have now been in possession of the Fiji Group for about forty years, and are still asking : Where is 
our Gazetteer of the Fijis ? 

2 We have at the present moment the curious spectacle of the University of Birmingham, which 
advertises itself in the pages of Nature as the "up-to-date" University, thinking it has covered the 
whole field of the study of native races, when it arranges for a simple course of Physical Anthro- 
pology, and leaves out of all consideration the other equally important branches of the study, such as 
the Social and Religious Institutions, the Technology, and Linguistics of Native Races, and 
their Ethnography and Archaeology. No university of the British Empire has the right to call 
itself "up-to-date," which ignores the study of the hundreds of millions of coloured people under 
our sway. 

On the British Loss of Antique Works of Art from Benin. xxi 

men who are a credit to the country. At Oxford we have the priceless museum 
presented to the University by the late General Pitt- Rivers, at the solicitation of his 
friend, Professor Tylor, and presided over by Mr. H. Balfour. What is the use of 
these institutions if their teaching is ignored ? 

I cannot help thinking that if some of the above facts had been known to, 
or appreciated by the gentlemen wlio disposed of the Bini antique works of art, 
they would have adopted proper means for keeping the articles in this country, and 
so saved us an ultimate loss which far exceeds in value the few hundred pounds 
made by the sale. 




Until recently very little attention has been given to defining native custom as 
regards property in land. The older travellers in West Africa were inclined to apply 
European methods of thought to African conditions, and they considered that 
occupiers of land were owners of land in the same sense that we hold land in 
England. The African demurred to having a foreign system imposed on him, and 
enquiry showed that the subject was complicated and would require serious study. 
In all our West African colonies we began to make enquiry of the natives as to 
what their real views on the subject might be. The law officers and others in the 
various colonies have examined witnesses and made reports, and though doubtless 
there is still room for much study, the native ideas of land tenure are now fairly 
well understood. Sir William MacGregor in Lagos has thoroughly gone into the 
matter, and has caused the officials under him to make enquiry among the natives 
and send in reports. Aided by his great experience of native races, he will be able to 
sift and apprize the evidence obtained through these different sources and his own 
observation, and we may look to him for a definite exposition of what is the real 
state of the case. As it is, there seems to be a great similarity in the views ex- 
pressed by natives all over Africa, and the central idea seems to be that ' individual 
ownership of land,' in our sense, is contrary to native custom. Dependant on this, 
it is further laid down that land cannot be sold. There can be no dispute that these 
two main ideas are almost universally expressed by natives who are willing to give 
an opinion. They represent in fact 'the spirit of the times' in Africa on this 

Nevertheless, some doubt must still linger in a careful enquirer's mind as to 
whether the native really has possessed a system of land tenure handed down from 
his ancestors, or whether the better educated part of the race has not constructed a 
theory of custom, in order to meet the danger of European invasion with its resultant 
alienation of native land. Personally, having been in West Africa for twenty 
years, I seem to recall a time when any such generalisation as that individual 
ownership is contrary to native ideas would not have been understood. The theory 
appears to me, at all events as far as Lagos is concerned, probably to have originated 
about fifteen years ago. In course of inquiries made among the Egbas, I have met 
instances of natives who declare that land was owned individually, and that sales did 
sometimes take place, and it is universally allowed that the pawning both of here- 
ditary farmlands and fishing grounds was a common practice. One of the ablest 
and most educated of the Lagos natives, in relating the ancient history or tradition 
of the race, has stated that Oranyan, the founder of the ancient Owyau, willed his 

xxii Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

property as follows : to the king of Benin was left his money, to the king of Ketu 
his crowns, while the land, as such, was to descend to the kings of Ife and Awyaw. 
The Ife branch willingly accepted the land for its share, as it was obvious that land 
would be necessary to the others, who would be forced to pay for it out of their 
property in other ways. It is a proverb known to all Yorubas, that the Oni of Ife 
owns the land. 

In the face of the above ideas and traditions, going back to the earliest days of 
the race, one cannot but have some doubts as to the accuracy of a positive assertion, 
however commonly repeated, that individual ownership of land is contrary to African 
custom. I have met a native, and a very intelligent one too, who gave me to 
understand that the theory, at any rate in its very positive form, originated in 
the advice given by Governor Glover to the natives not to sell their lands to 
Europeans, and he informed me messages were sent all over the country laying down 
the doctrine as at present current. While thus expressing a certain amount of 
doubt as to the existence of any clearly defined custom of great antiquity, I am free 
to confess that there is at present a very intelligible and commonly received expression 
of racial customs on the subject, and I describe below what enquiry has led me to 
believe the native customs to be. 

It is to my mind by no means certain that the natives will always continue to 
hold the same views on land tenure. With the advance of agriculture one cannot 
but hope a more personal feeling of ownership of, and interest in farms will arise. 
Virgin forest is becoming scarce; used-up land, or temporarily exhausted land, is very 
common ; and unless there is a feeling of absolute ownership one cannot look for any 
keen attempt to improve the lands as farmed, at any rate in the present state of 
development of African society. I believe the fear of Europeans buying the land 
away from its native holders is not well founded, and one cannot but feel that a time 
may easily come, when inability to sell or purchase land amongst the natives them- 
selves will be an absolute hindrance to progress. 

Having expressed these doubts I proceed to state what seem to be the present ideas 
as to land tenure and inheritance. , I regret that while in Benin I paid no attention 
to the subject. It may well be that the centralisation of all proprietorship in the 
king there may have altered the usual customs in West Africa. Undoubtedly the king 
claimed every man to be his slave. The nobles had villages and farms, but I should 
not like to say that their adherents, who lived in the villages and cultivated the farms, 
were in effect their slaves. I do not remember any slaves at all in Gwatto. Among 
the Yorubas the following is, I believe, an accurate account of land tenure. 

Firstly the tribes were nomadic, or at any rate the present population came from 
the north. There are no traces of any race anterior to the Yorubas. Take the 
Egbas as an example, the land was parted among the families, or sub-tribes. The 
uncultivated land was common property of the tribe, the hunters of each tribe knew 
the approximate boundaries of the land of the tribe, and kept the hunting for 
members of the tribe. Land was cleared by individuals for farming, and if the 
individual was a member of the tribe he asked no one's permission before clearing 
and taking possession of forest land. Suppose an individual so cleared a farm in the 
middle of the forest, he became owner of the farmland cleared, but could not sell it. 
If he vacated it, it would revert to forest, but he would still have a right of reoccupy- 
ing. The farmland so cleared would descend to his family. 

Property in Yoruba is of three kinds, viz : 

(a) The Dwelling House. 

(b) Farmland. 

(c) Personality, such as goods, money, etc. 

(a) The dwelling house was family property for always, could not be sold, and any 
descendant, at any time, had the right to return and shelter in it. In the Jehu country 
cases would come before the native authorities in which a debtor would plead im- 
pecuniosity and would be still living comfortably in the family house. He could not 
be turned out, nor could any sort of charge be made on the house to pay his debts. 

Land Tcnuve and Inheritance in Yaruba. xxiii 

The Awujale would sometimes place crossed peeled wands (cf. Benin) in the door- 
way, and prevent all entrance to the house till the family paid the debts, but I always 
felt that this was a latter day expedient, and contrary to the feeling of the country. 

(b) Farmland was a family inheritance. It could not be sold, nor could it 
be taken away for debt, though a man in debt could pawn his land, or rather he 
could pawn the use of it. For the crimes of witchcraft or treasonable correspon- 
dence with the country's enemy, a man could be outlawed, and then his land would be 
forfeited, or perhaps to put it more correctly, he might be driven out from his land 
and his membership of the tribe. When farms were pawned for debt, two states of 
affairs were recognised. A man could pawn the use of his farm and reserve to him- 
self the right to collect palm nuts and kolas, and the occupant could not cut down or 
injure the palm or kola trees. The farm could also be pawned with the palm or kola 
trees on it. Nothing in the shape of foreclosure was recognised. The farm would be 
redeemable at any time by the original debtor, or by any member of his family. If 
one son out of several found the means of redeeming a pawned farm he would 
obtain possession, but the other members of the family could at any time make offer 
of their share of the redemption money and claim a share of the land. A man 
during his lifetime could make a present of part of his farms to a friend, but accord- 
ing to native statement in no case could this amount to a sale. I have some doubts 
as to whether or no the natives have really thought out this question of the giving 
of land. It is done and the donee continues in possession, but I am inclined to think 
it would depend to some extent on his personal character and status, as to whether 
his title would continue valid as against children of the donor. 

Daughters as well as sons inherited farm land. If a person own many farms they 
would be divided among his children. The eldest son would take the biggest. Prob- 
ably the children would be in effective occupation of certain farms during the parents' 
lifetime. Young children and daughters unable to farm the land, would not take 
possession of their portions. The elder brother would possess in trust for them. 

A daughter married to a man of another tribe would inherit, and if the husband 
took up his abode with the tribe, he would continue in occupation of his wife's land, 
provided there were no children. In event of children they would inherit the mother's 
land, but they also would have to reside and be members of the tribe. 

If an Ibadan man married an Egba woman, the children would be Egbas, if they 
continued to live in Egba land, and they would inherit their mother's property in land. 
If, however, the father took them to live in Ibadan land, they would not own the 
mother's land unless they decided to return to Egba country. 

Fishing grounds on the Ogun river were possessed similarly to farm land. 

Virgin forest is common to the tribe, at least so one is told, but in Jebu, along 
the banks of the Oshun, one hears a different story. Here there is, or was, a consid- 
erable quantity of mahogany. The forest in fact, was found to have a commercial 
value. So one finds powerful chiefs, like Kuku, claiming ownership over forest tracts, 
and further, obtaining by means of what are practically deeds of sale, though often 
for very small consideration received, the ownership of pieces of forest likely to 
contain mahogany trees. 

The custom of inheritance of slaves is not known to me sufficiently to speak of. 
Whether they are family property, as land, or treated as personality, I am not prepared 
to say. Personality, i.e., goods, money, cowries, etc., does not go to the children but 
to the brother, or if none, to the sister of deceased. Brothers and sisters by the same 
mother only, are nearer akin than brothers and sisters by the same father. In the event 
of there being no landed property, the brother or sister inheriting would have to give 
a certain portion to the children, and in all cases would have to provide for them and 
act as guardian. The division of property would be made by family council assisted 
by the elders of the town. 

On taking possession of land, whether by inheritance, gift, or by pawn, no 
ceremonies are gone through in the Egba country. 



Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horrors. 

Boundaries of farms are marked by heaps of earth in which are planted any of 
the following trees : Perigun [Dvaccvna sp.), Akoko {Neivhouldia lavis), Akika 
[Spondias lutea), Lubuteji (Curcas puvgans), and several others. Kola trees (Stercidia 
acuminata) growing in the forest often mark the sites of old farms, and form a proof 
of ownership. 

In the conquest of one tribe by another, property and persons taken during actual 
fighting become the spoil of the victors. 

Submission once made, the conquered tribe becomes subject, but individuals are 
not enslaved, nor are farm lands or other property confiscated by the victors. 

In treating the question of land tenure I would deprecate any very positive 
generalisation, or acceptance of any cut-and-dried theories. The natives should be 
made to feel that they will not be ousted by Europeans from the enjoyment and 
development of their land, and then the absolute terms of land tenure may be left to 
settle themselves by the law of expediency and justice. 

Fig. 275. — Bronze Armlet (?) from the north-west 
boundary of Benin territory. Height 5in. (12.7 cm.). 
In the possession of Graham Nicholas, Esq., The 
Bowers, Barkisland, Halifax. 


Aa, A. J. van der, 2 

Abiala, a mythical people, 12 

Aboynagbo, title, 94 

Accuser punished if his case not proven, 85 

Access to king difficult 92 

Adams, Capt. John, 3 

Ado, first name of Benin, 9 

Adolo, King Overami's father, 70 ; wives of, 100 

Adubowa succeeds to throne and takes name 

Uverami (Overami), 100 
Adultery, punishment for, 39 
JEgis, 225 
Affonso v.. 4 

Agate ornaments, 26, 27 ; sec coral 
Agbe, King's boy, 64, 100 
Aguramasi, King's boy, 64, 100, 123 
Ahammangiwa makes first castings, 230 
Ahuraku priest, limited to his town, 53; ' Parson,' 

54 ; feathers, 68 ; makes his head, 75, 76, 116 ; 

the Malaku priest, 167 
Aiaccio (Corsica) Father Angelo Maria d', 15 
Akori or blue coral. 133 
Alagwe, juju, 53, 55 ; water spirt, 90 
Albinos, 19 
Albizzia sp., 142 

Alcoves, dark, 167, 187, 188, 217 
Alguns Documentos, 6 
Alligator, with light in its head, 90 
Altars, 59, 68, 169, 171, 173, 184; conical 

shaped, 218; fetish cone, 168 
Ambassadors sent to Portugal, 5 
Aviomum paradisii, 4, 143 
Animals sacrificed, 52, 69, 71, 72, 76, 79, 98 
Annesley, Vice-Consul, 3 
Annual sacrifices, 52, 72; driving out of spirits, 

35 ; parades of King, 74, 95 
Appearance of the people, 16 
Appointments when made, 95 
Arbon, or Argon, 11 
Architecture, Yoruba, limits of, 182; origin of 

Bini, 184 
Ardca alba, 80 

Are de Roe (street king's), 92 
Armlets, 31 ; ivory, 205 
Army, 126, 127 
Arribo, 91, 95 
Arrows, 125, x 

Art, foreign forms in, 209; two styles observ- 
able in castings, 224 
Artocarp sp., 149 
Arthus, I 
Asije (Esige) King, arrival of whitemen 7; 

compound dedicated to, 54 ; stories of, 55, 


Assegais, 125 

Atolo, see Jambra 

Atrium, 129, 167, 169 

Authority of King, 91, 92 

Aveiro, Joham Affonso de, 4 

Aviccnnia sp., 143 

Axe, 134 

Bacon, R. H., Commander, 4 

Badagry subject to Benin, 13 ; bodies of chiefs 

sent to Benin, 13 
Bambu wine, 149 
Bap Ilia nitida, 134 
Batalha-Reis, i 
Barbot, Jean, 2 
Barros, Joao de, i 
Bawaku, King's brother loses his birthright and 

flees, 100 
Beads, artificial, 27 ; see Coral 
Beans, 131, 147; used in games, 155 
Beauty of the town, 175 
Beauvais, Palisot de, 3 
Beds, 166 

Belzoni, 3 ; papers of, 118 
Benin, discovery of, 4; not a rich country, 5; 

size of, 5 ; first name of, Ado, 9; listofkiags, 

6; average reign of kings, 7; kings descended 

from the Oni of Ife, 13 ; description of 

country, 11 ; extent of the kingdom, 12, 13 
Benson, 2 
Bey, 3 
Big men, Great Lords, Homo Grans, 83, 91, 

92, 93, no; dress of, 117; 
Big water, offerings swept into, 57 
Bird John and W., 2 

Bird, King of Benin could turn into a, 62 
Birds, copper, 160, 161, 163, i68 ; sec turkeys 
Birthright lost ; Bawaku and Orukutu, 100 
Blair, Vice-Consul, 3. 
Bleasby, 3 

Blomert (Bloemart, Blommart), Samuel, 2 
Blood, human, collected in dishes, 43 ; sprinkled 

on altars, &c., 72, 76, 79, 175, x 
Boisragon Capt., 4 
Bolts, 187, 188 

Bonny, a Bini embassy at, 13 
Booty taken in war, 126, 127 
Bosman, 2 ; unwarranted ridicule of Dapper, 

2, 109 
Boundary mark, 187 
Bourdon (Pardon) wine, 83, 149 
Bows, 125, X 
Brass, neptune, 169; covering, 172, 174; on 

door, 177 
Bribes, 89, 91 


Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Hovvovi. 

Brinckman, Dr. J., 4 

Broad avenue or street of Benin, 158, 163, 171, 

Brothers of king killed, 99 
Bry, de, i 
Bull roarer, 65 
Bulwark wall, 162, 163 
Burial, 41-44 ; ground 175 
Burton, Sir Richard, 3 
" Business," 123 
Calabashes, 153 

Caladesan King, son of founder of Gwato, 53 
Calamus Barteri, 189 ; Calamus sp., 145 
Calico cloth a prophylactic, 62 
Call for deer, 144 
Cannibalism, 6; unknown, 47 
Cannon, old, 125, 173 
Canoes, 6; requisitioned, 135 
Captain of War, see War Captain 
Captives rescued from pits, 68, 69, xii 
Cardamoms, 4 
Carica papaya, 187 
Carli, Denis de, 2 
Carlsen, Dr. F., 4 
Carpenters, 140 
Carving, on rafters, 176, 177; on ivory, 193; 

how done, 196 ; on coco nuts, 205 ; woodwork, 

Casket, 223 
Castagnets, 153 

Castings, hidden in the walls, 217; how pro- 
duced, 226 ; not produced under supervision 

of the king, 228 ; origin of, 229 
Catfish (meerkatse) to eat, 131 ; carved, 196 ; 

evolution of, 219; in castings, 225 
Cattle, 148 ; bullocks, 175 
Cauldrons, copper, as drums, 80 
Cavadium, 167 
Ceiling, 187 

Chalcedony beads, 27 ; see Coral 
Chalk, sticks, 59 ; a prophylactic 62 
Chants, monotonous, 154 
Character, 45 

Charms, to make hunter invisible, 145 
Cheetham, Samuel, 3 
Chests, wooden dugouts, 177 
Chiefs, extortions by, 46 ; laziness of, 47 
Childbirth, 35 
Children, wear no clothing, 24 ; the king's 

property, 91 ; inherit from mother, 97 ; un- 

kindness to, unusual, 104 
Chiffau, heir elect, 99 
Chlorophora excelsa, loi 
Christianity, vestiges of, 14 
Cicatrisation {fradus) 6, 33, 91 ; brutality of, 34 ; 

Ijos, 34 
Circumcision, 35 
Cire Perdue process, 226 

Cistern, see Imphivium 

Civil War, 14, 164 

Clarke, Hugh Crawford, 3 

Clay, pipes, 59; figures, 64, 217 

Climate, unhealthiness of, 104 

Cloth, of gold and silver tissue, 74 ; curiously 
woven, 131, 140; great value of, 141; meas- 
urements, 141 

Clothing, 21 ; people only clothed by permission 
of the king, 24 ; buried with king, 43 

Cocks, bronze, 218 

Coconut carving, 205 

Coffins, 42 

Colour of skin, 17, 18, 19, 65, 80 

Compound erected in king's memory, loi, 102, 


Compluvium, 167 

Cone of clay, fetish, 168 ; small round altar, 
184; conical altars, 218 

Confidence of the Bini in their king, xviii 

Conversion of natives, 6, 14 

Cookhouse (kitchens), 158, 177 

Coral (Agate, Chalcidony, Jasper), beads return- 
able to king, 26, 42 ; wearing coral a royal 
privilege, 25, 26; authority to wear not 
hereditary, 93 ; loss a cause for execution, 95 ; 
sacrifice, 71; festival, 74, 76; immersed in 
human blood, 76 ; delight of native on receipt 
of, 96 ; beads, 19 ; apron, 22 ; value of, 26 ; 
blue, 133 ; cap, 20, 27 ; head dress, 74 ; hair 
dressing, 80; shirt, 99; for king, 113; on 
king's dress, xiii, xvii ; king's stolen, xvii ; 
neck bands, 26; necklaces, 80, 83, 94, 95, 99, 
117; worn by king's wives, 115; ornaments, 
use of wide spread in Africa, 27 

Cornet, 80, 153 

Corpse kept above ground, 42 

Cottonwool, 131; spun, 132; indigenous, 141 

Council of Big Men, 85, 93 

Courses, wall, 172 

Courtesans, 37, 97 

Courtesy, 45 

Courtiers, 107 

Court, Historian, 4; dress, 23; duties, 65; 
Higher of Justice, 91 ; Queen mother's, 119; 
Queen's, 160 ; King's, 160, 162, i6g 

Courts, open, 158, 160, 164 

Cowardice of Bini alleged, 127 

Cowries, 6 ; value of, 9 ; as dice, 89 ; king's 
income 96 ; let into walls, 128, 170 ; as money, 
133, 134; introduction and value of, 140; in 
clay cone altar, 168 

Coxon, 3 

Credit, system of, 139 

Criminal affairs, 91 

Crotals, 222, 223 

Crow, Capt. Hugh, 13 

Crown, inheritance of, 98 



Crucifix from Benin, 5 ; of the old missioners. 

15. 16 
Crucifixion, 64, 66, 69; trees, 51, 54,55, 173, 

xi ; not always sacrificial in character, 86 
Cruelties of the sacrifices, 65, 66, 68, 69, xi 
Curcas purgans, xxiv 
Curse, a Yoruba, 43 
Customs duties, 136, 137 
Cutlass held before the king, 116, 117 
Cynodon dactylon, sp. 16 
Cyperus sp., 142 
Cyprcea sp. 140 
Dapper, Dr. Olfort, 2 ; not present at court, 

109; accounts confirmed by C. Punch, 136 
Dancing, lascivious, 78; fetish 83; 77, 153; 

place, 166 
Death, of a chief 42 ; without bloodshed, how 

punished, 86 ; not feared, 151 
Death, people go to Ogiwo, 72 ; return to a 

better condition of life, 74 
Decay of the City, 14 

Decomposing human bodies, 66, 67, 68, 69 
Deer hunting, 144 
Destiny, good or bad, 76 
Destruction of the City by fire, xii 
Devil, sacrifices to, 49 ; reasoning about the, 

51 ; Lolocou, 78 
Dignified manner of chiefs, 18, 45 
Disembowelling victims, 66, 69 
Disguised men, 55, 57, 78, see masked men 
Dishonesty of market women, 47 
Distribution, of sacrificed animals, 52 ; of food, 

71. 75. 148 

Distorted carved human figures, 220 

Ditch, 5, 158, 163, 189; ascribed to Oguola, 190 

Doctor versus jujuman, 151 

Dogs for food, 131 ; 148 

Door, wooden, 158, 165, 166, 189 ; with stamped 
brass, 175, 177 

Dore, chief, 4, 26 

D.R.. I 

Dracaena, sp. xxiv. 

Drains, 187 

Dreams, 51 

Dress, 83 ; of big men, 117 ; of king, xiii, xvii 

Drink given to victims before slaughter, 64 

Dropsy, 151 

Drums, 77, 153 ; pressure, 205 ; copper caul- 
drons as, 80 

Drunkards, 45 

Dudu, chief, 4, 26 

Dunne, Sam, 2 

Dwarfs, 74 ; bronze, 218, 219 

Dyeing, 141 

Earthen pots, 70, 75 

Ebanus scriccus, 134 

Egugus, drive out spirits, 55 

Elephant hunter, 144 

Eldest son, inherits, 97, 100, loi ; rarely inherits, 

99 ; if first reported to father, 100 
Ember iza vidua, 80 

Enamelling, apparently unknown, 30 
Erythrina umbrosa, 187 
Erythrophloeum guincense, 88 
Erisoyne, the introducer of the cast work, 229 
Ese Ado, 181 
Esige, see Asije 
Eunuchs, 37, 40 
Europeans, well treated, 136; disputes of, 201 ; 

short visits of, 234 
Everybody the king's property, 101, or slaves, 

103, III 
Ewagwe (Ongogue), 91, 95, 100 loi 
Eweke, first king, arrival of, 7 ; introduces 

human sacrifices, 70 
Excuse, any for a sacrifice, 72 
Execution, instruments, 56, 68, 74, 78 ; method 

of. 74. 85 
Executioner, belonged to king's staff, 50 ; the 

king's, 94 
Export of slaves stops human sacrifices, 103 
Extortion by chiefs, 46; and by Ukoba, 94 
Eye juice ordeal, 87 
Fans, 107, 108, 123 
Farquhar, 3 

Fawckner, Capt. Jas., 3 
Feather and clod ordeal, 87 
Feathers, of priests, 67, 68 ; in chief's hair. So 
Feast, days, 52 ; of new yams, 57, 72, 76 
Features of Bini refined. 18 
Feet washing ceremony, 115, 123, 128 
Females never (!) sacrificed, 70 ; children 

belong to father, 40 ; figures in castings, 

2:22, 232, 233 
Fertility of the people, 40 
Fetish, 5, 166, 65 ; ceremony, 83 ; houses, 57, 

165 ; observances, 48 ; Sobo, 200 
Fetizero, 49 

Fiadors, 91, 93 ; for trading, 134, 135 
Fights for succession to the throne, 100 
Figuar, Filip da, 2 
Finance minister, 93 
Fines, 85 ; how distributed, 87 ; never reach 

the king, 96 
Finger nail of king, 113 

Firenze (Florence) Father Bonaventura da, 15 
Fire, ordeal, 87 ; sitting round, 166 ; destroy 

the City, 12 
Fish, trade, 134, 136, 144 ; pots, 143 ; smoked, 

148 ; Bini do not, 144 ; rights, 144 
Flood stayed by Asije, 55 
Flutes, 80 

Foliage pattern, 209 
Food distribution, 71, 75, 108 
Forbes, Dr. H. O., 4 
Foreign ornamentation and designs adopted, 



Great Benin — Its Customs, Art and Horvovs. 

Forest encroaching on Benin, 147, 149 

Fowls, 131 

Freemen do not expose themselves to sun, 65 

Friendship, oath of, 61 

Fruits, 147 

Fufu, 148 

Fulladors, 95 

Fiintunia elastica, 134 

Furniture buried with the king, 43 

Future life, in the sea, 52 ; with Ojiwo, 72 

Galingales, 142 

Galleries, 160, 162 

Gallwey, Capt., 3 

Galvano, Antonio, i 

Game, of Warri, 154 ; children's, 154 

Gangan the hunter, 144 

Gates, town, 158, 160 

Goats, 148 ; sacrificed to prevent arrival of 

white man, 69 
God, reason for not adoring, 51 ; of health, 53, 

71, 72 ; attention called by a rattle, 72 
Gold, ornaments, 31 ; mines, why not worked, 

Golgotha, a, 63, 66 
Gomez, Fernao, 4 
Gooras, see Kola nuts 
Grasses, native, 16 
Great Lords, see Big Men 
Green herbs, fetish, 49 ; as medicine, 151 
Guinea fowl, 144 
Guns, 125 
Gwato (Gato, Guatun, Egatun, Gotton. Ugato) 

first description of, 5 ; not place of first 

arrival of Europeans, 53 ; foundation of, 53 ; 

spirit of, 57 
Hagen, Dr. Carl, 4 
Hair dressing, 18, 19, 20, 21 ; coral, 80 ; of 

king, iii. ; of king's wives, xiii. 
Hangers, 125 

Harlem, Benin compared with, 160 
Harp, 153 

Haussa type of house, 184 
Hawk's bells, 222, 223 
Head, heart and lights, used as fetish by 

hunters, 145 
Head making, Adubowa's, 100 ; Ahuraku's, 

75. 76 
Heads, bronze, 218 
Health God, 53, 71, 72 
Heeren or Keizersgracht canals, comparison 

with, 160 
Heger, Dr. Eraser, 4 
Hemsted, Thos., 2 
Henderson, 3 
Henry Dr., 3 

Herbs, as fetish, 49 ; as medicine, 157 
Hilliard. 3 
Hoe, 132 

Homo-grans, sec Big Men 

Honesty, 47 

Horns, 153 ; made of elephant tusks, 77 

Horses 148 ; how ridden, 107, 108 

Houses, 158 ; general arrangements, 168 ; inter- 
nal arrangements, 184, 187 ; Haussa, 184 ; on 
Gold Coast, 186 

Hot copper ordeal, 87 

Human blood sprinkled on altars, etc., 72, 

76. 79 
Human corpse, 65 ; devoured by turkey 

buzzard, 63 ; decomposed, 173 ; buried in 

walls, 217 

Human eye on pathway, 65 

Human sacrifices, 15, 49, 52, 57, 68. 167, 169, 
X.; frequency of, 66 ; of Albinos, 19; 400-500 
a year, 72 ; first mention of, 63 ; to the sea, 
63 ; introduced by King Eureka, 70 ; bad 
people only sacrificed, 70, 71 ; attempt to 
prevent, 63, 79, 86 ; prevented by C. Punch, 
66 : on king's inheritance, 98 ; on king's 
accession, loi ; on completion of compound, 
102 ; lessened by export of slaves, 103 

Human skulls lying about like pebbles, 63 

Humiliation before king, 109, iii, 112, 113, 123 

Humour not expressed in art, 209 

Hunters' privileges, 145 ; fetish tree, 187 

Hypoelytrum nemorum, 142 

Hyperperexia, 3 

Ibodudu's prophesy, 71 

Idol, real, 78 

Ife the Oni of, 6 ; Bini send to Ife for a king, 7 

Ijos (Jos, Ejaus, Jomen), 6, 25 

Impiuvium, 117, 167, 168 

Imports, Dutch, 133 ; French, 133, 137 ; English 

Indigo/era endacaphylla, 142 

Income of king, 96 

Ingram, Anthonie, 2 

Inheritance, 97 ; of crown, 98 ; in Yoruba, xxi 

Invisible, hunters have charms to make, 145 

Iron pins to mark flood level, 55 

Iron, roof, 171, 172, 173; smelting, 232 

Ivory, built up into figures, 44 ; catch 177 ; 

bolts, 188; trade in 193; staff, 196; masks, 

199; statuettes, 199; sistrum, 205; armlets, 

Jabou, see Ojoma (War Captain) 
Jacolliot, 3 

Ja-ja rose from a slave, 105 
Jambra succeeds to throne and takes name of 

Atolo, 100 
Jasper see Coral 
Jealousy, 38 
Jug, brass, 219 
Juju, men versus doctors, 151; room in every 

house, 171 ; place, 172, 173 
Katunga, King of, related to King of Benin, 13 
King, Lieut. John, 3 



Kings of Benin, list of 6; average reign of, 7 ; 
is fetish, 62 ; does not require food nor sleep, 
62 ; could turn into a bird,. 62 ; serves out 
saucevvood, 88; reverence for, log ; prowls 
about at night, 65 ; only can confer right to 
be clothed, 24 ; authority, 91, 92 ; everybody 
his property, loi ; can sell his subjects, 103 ; 
wives, 74; wives' coral, 115; women slaves, 
108; claims male children, 40, 117; orders 
chief to kill himself, 85 ; cutlass held before 
him, 116, 117; claims first tusk, 144 ; income 
96; finger nail, 113; coral, 113; court, 159, 
160, 162; compound, 169, 171; stools, 112, 
113 ; boys (Ukoba), 94 ; their nakedness, iii, 
117, 118, 123; access to difficult, 92; his 
understudy, loi ; interviews with, log et seg ; 
his presents covered up, no; burial, 43; 
brothers killed at accession, 99; human 
sacrifices at accession, loi ; speaks Portu- 
guese, 109 

King Overami sick of sacrifices and promise 
regarding, 66 ; ruins country, 175 ; makes 
submission, xiii ; attempts escape, xvii ; his 
capture and exile, xviii 

Knowledge kept from the king, 92 

Kissing, 99 ; the fetish, 79 

Kola nuts, 59, 148, presented, 114, 128, 130 

Labarthe, P., 3 

Lambert, Nicholas, 2 

Lamps, 120, 121 ; candelabra, 173 

Landers, The, references to Benin, 13 

Landolphe, Capt. J. F., 2 

Landolphia rubber plants, 3 

Land, cultivation and measure, 143 ; tenure, xxi 

Lascivious dancing, 78 

Latania Lodigessii, 164 

Layers of clay in walls, 178 

Laziness, cause of, 46 ; of chiefs, 47 

Leather Jacks, 59 

Leather dressers, 140 

Legends, village, 55 

Leglets, 31 

Legroing, 3 

Legs, how depicted in metal work, 220 

Leopard spots, how depicted, 221, 222 

Leopards, tame, 74 

Lex Talionis, 86 

Libations at tombs, 42, 59 

Libidinousness, 45 

Lizards, dried, 131 

Locke, E, 4 

Locks or bolts, 187, 188 

Lolocou, devil, 78 

Lonchocai'Pus sericeus, 142 

Long Dane gun, 144 

" Long juju " (water ordeal), 87 

Looking-glass, 173, 174, 214. 

Looms, 141 

Louers (louvres), 160 

Lubo (Ologbo). village of, 11 ; spirit of, 53 

Luschan, Prof, von, 4 

McNaught, Dr., 3 

Maize, 147 

" Making one's father " (yearly sacrifice to the 

father), 70. 72 74 
Making one's head (Luck), 76 
Malaku, making, 19 ; spirit of the big water. 

53 ; causes flood, 55 ; impersonation of 

Orisha, 55 ; appears as an old man, 57 ; 

house altar. 59, 78 
Male children are king's property, 40, 117 
Manillas, 5, 6, 142 
Marees, Pieter de, i 
Markets, 131, 132, 133, 134, 135, 162 ; tray of 

women, 145 
Marriage conferred by the king, 24, 37 
Masked men, 43, 44, 78 ; see also Disguised Men 
Massacre, Philips', 3, 4 ; vestiges of, xii. 
Massacres on king's succession, 99, loi 
Master, wood and ivory carver, 4 
Mat making, 140, 141, 142 
Measurements of cloths, 141 ; of land, 143 
Mercadors, 95, 136 
Metal castings mentioned by Gallwey and 

Lander, 217 
Mezzo relievo work, 167 
Milbio (millet), 147 
Millipede, superstition about. 84 
Miller Bros., 3 

Ministers of Finance, Trade and War, 93 
Mission, Phillips', 3, 4 
Missionaries, first arrival of, 6 ; attempt to 

prevent human sacrifice, 63 
Moffat and Smith, 3 

Monkey, roast, 131 ; flesh, 148 ; head, 167 
Moor, Consul-General, Sir Ralph, K C.M.G.,3, 4 
Moors arrive at Benin, 234 
Moringa pterygosperinia, 161 
Mouths of victims skewered, 67 
Mud altar ; see cones 
Muntz metal, 102 ; roof, 176 
Murder, rampant, 65 ; punishment for, 86 
Music, 153 
Muskets, 125 
Mythical people, 12 

Nana, chief of Brohoemi, 26, 27, 142, 161 
Nakedness at court, 24 ; see also Ukoba 
Neglect of old age, 47 
Neptune of Wars, 169 
N eivhouldia Its vis, 187, xxi v. 
New Gumea, comparison of art with, 213 
Newton, John, 2 
News, quick conveyance of, 96 
Night prowling of the king, 65 ; victims 

captured during, 66 
Nobles, how raised, 65 ; herds of. 94 


Great Benin — Its customs, Art and Hovrovs. 

Nyendael, D.V., 2 ; court reception like 
C. Punch's, 119 

Oath of friendship, 61 

Oba (obba), King, 94 

Obadesogbo, death of, xvi. 

Obahawie taken prisoner, xv., shot xvi. 

Obaiuwana commits suicide, xv. 

Obamoe, 94 

Obaradesagmo, 94, 100 

Obaseke, 94 

Oberstein agate works, 27 

Occupation of the people, 47 

Ochudi's compound, 173, 175 

Ochterton, 3 

Odobowa ; see Adubowa 

Ogilby, 2 

Ogiwo, god of health, 71 ; dead people go to 
him, 72 

Ojoma (Ojomo, Ojumo), 18, 65, 100, loi, 130 ; 
human sacrifice, 79 ; compound of, 173, 
175 ; an independeut king, 94 

Okerison, sacrifices, 57 ; festival, 65 ; execution- 
ers, 74, 95 

Old age, neglect of, 47 

Old-man-with-bag spirit (Malaku), 57 

Ologbo creek, where Europeans first arrived, 
12, 53 

Olubasheri (Ologbosheri), head fighting man, 

65. 94 
Ologbosheri condemned, xvi. ; captured and 

shot, xvii. 
Onegwa, the, 98 
Ongongue ; see Ewagwe 

Oni, the, of Ife, ancestor of Kings of Benin, 13 
Ordeals, 39, 86 et seq. 
Orders of king not carried out, 92 
Orgies, 77 

Origin, of Bini architecture, 184 ; of castings, 233 
Orisa (Orishi) god, 49, 55 
Ornaments, personal, 24-34 
Oro, 50 ; voice of, 64, 65 ; bull roarer, 65 ; 

grove, 55, 169 
Orukotu, the king's brother, 95 ; loses his 

birthright, 100, loi 
Osebu, king's son's court, 98 
Osogboa, drives out Alagwe juju, ^^ ; orders 

plaques to be made, 230 
Ossade (Uchudi), 91 
Owe Asserry : see War Captain 
Paan (Pagnes, Panen), 23, 137, 138, 139 
Palaver, xiii. 
Palma Christi, 151 
Palm, wine, 130, 149 ; oil, 131, 138; leaf roof, 

160, 165 
Panicum horizontale, iG 
Parades, annual of kings', 74, 95 
Pardon wine, 40, 76, 130, 149 
Parrots, to eat, 131 ; tame, 187 

" Parson " Ahuraku, 54 ; son, 118 

Passador, 52, 93, iii, 135 

Paterae, architectural, 219 

Path strewn with decomposing human bodies, 66 

Paton, 3 

Pawns ; see Paan 

Pereira, Duarte Pecheco, i 

Periodical sickness, 39 

Pepper, 4, 5, 131, 143, 147 

Pharmacopia, 151 

Phillips, Vice-Consul, 3, 4 

Phosphor matches, fetish, 89 

Physique, 17, i. ; strength, 19 

Physostoma venenosa, 155 

Pigs, 148 

Pillars covered with cast copper, engraved 
(plaques), 160, 162, 176 

Pima, Ruy de, i 

Pinteado, Francisco, i, 2 

Pipes, 141 

Piries, Durate, 6 

Piscina, 118, 167 

Pitch, or pitchy substance, 102, 188 

Pits, 63 ; full of dead bodies, 68 ; captives res- 
cued from, 68, 69 ; seventeen, 69, 102 ; foul, 
169 ; victims thrown in. 169 ; for victims, 
171, 175, 188, xii. 

Pitt-Rivers, Gen., F.R.S., 4, xviii. 

Plaques, 218; introduced by Osogboa, 230; in. 
British Museum, 232 

Plates (platters), inlaid in walls, 67, 170 

Pluviarium, 187 

Poison, 3, 144, 151 ; 46, 47, 199 ; arrows, 47, 125 

Police. 85 

Polished clay bench, 57 ; shiney and smooth 
walls, 160, 161, 166, 177 

Polypoterus bichir, 219 

Poniards, 125 

Poor people, bodies thrown into the bush, 42 ; 
supported, 46 

Population, 14 

Porcelain inlaid in walls, 67, 170 

Pots, earthen, 75 

Poultry, 148 

Powis, 3 

Presents to the king covered up, no 

Pressure drum, 205, 210 

Priests sent to Benin, 5 ; every one his own, 50 ; 
poverty of, 151 

Primogeniture not an African institution, loi 

Prisoners, how secured, 68 ; chained to floor, 187 

Privileges of hunters, 145 

Processions ; see parades 

Prophecy of Ibodudu, 71 

Proverb, curious, 12 

Prophylactics, 62 

Punch, Cyril, 3 ; court reception similar to 
Nyendael's, 119 



Punishment for loss of battle, 127 

Punitive Expedition, The, 4 

Purchase price of slave, 104, 105 

Pyramids see Towers 

Queen Mother, the, 119 

Queen's court, 160 

Quesnc, J. S., 2 

Quick, K., 4 

Rafters, roof timbers. 163, 165, 173, 176-178 

Rain God, sacrifice, 71, 72 

Rape, 39 

Rapiers, 125 

Rattles, 108, 153 

Rattle sticks on altars, 68 ; to call attention of 

the gods, 72 
Rats to eat, 131 

Rawson, Commander Sir Harry, K.CB., 4 
Read, C H., Keeper of Antiquities, British 

Museum, 4, xviii., xxi. 
Realistic representations, 233, 234 
Refined features of the Bini, 18 
Relief work, 167, 174 
Reservedness, 46 
Revenues of the king, 96 
Rezende, Garcia De, i 
Rich men despoiled, 46 
Riding method, 107 
Rhizop/iora sp., 143 
Roads kept in order, 169 ; see Streets 
Roman architecture, comparison with, 167, 171, 

177, 184, 187 
Romano, Francis da, 2 
Roof of Idtanicr {natanier) leaves, 163 
Roofs, 160, 163, 164, 166, 171, 172, 173, 176, 

177 ; see Rafters 
Rosettes on castings, 219, 233 
Roupell. Capt., E.P.S., D.S.O.. 4 
Ruins, 162, 167, 169, 171 
Sabbath, the, every fifth day, 52 
Sacella, 59 ; sacellum, 169 
Sacrifices ; see Human Sacrifices 
Sacrificial trees, 51, 52, 54, 64, 66, 69 
St. Thomas, Isl., 2 
Salt, discovery of, 53 ; discovered by Osogboa, 

53, 142 ; how obtained, 142, 143 ; as a 

medium of exchange, 142 ; for dyeing, 1^2 
Salutations, 83, 123 
Sandra, Jan, i 
Saseri ; see War Captain 
Sauce wood ordeal, 88 
Scaffold used in hunting, 145 
Scitaminca, 143 

Sea, future life in, 52 ; sacrifices to, 53, 63 
Seasayre ; see War Captain 
Sequeira, Ruy de, 4 
Sheep, 148 

Shells used as spoons, i^8 
Shellu, king's son's couit, 99 

Shields, or fans, 107, 125, 127 

Shingle roofs, 16-), 163, 164 

Ships arrival notified, 135, 136 

Singing, 153 

Sister's son succeeds, 99 

Sistrum, ivory, 205 ; brass, 221 

Size of City, 160 

Skin, colour, 17, 18, 19,65,80; marks (incisions), 

6, 33. 91. 

Slaves (captives), 5 ; immolated at burials, 41 ; 
of king, 91 ; villages. 103 ; with physical 
defects, 103 ; males only exported, 103 ; 
trade, decay of, 104; unhappiness of, 104; 
purchase price of, 104, 138 ; rise to prosper- 
ity, 105 ; task work, 143 

Smith and Moffat, 3 

Smiths. 140 ; shops, 175 

Smell of human blood. 171 ; fearful. 175 
awful xi 

Snake on roof, 44 ; 162, 163, 164, 165, 172, 173, 

Soap (sope), 131, 134, 143 
Sobo, 6 ; fetish, 200 
Soldiery, 126, 127 

Son first reported to father inherits, 100 
Sorrento, Merrola da, 2 
Spears, 125 

Sphyrelaton work, 199 
Spinning machines, 141 
Spirit of old man with bag, 57 
Spirits annually driven out, 55 
Spondeus lutea, 142 
Spoons, shells used as, 148 
Spurheeledness, 205 
Stables, 159 
Staff, carved, 196, 219 
Star, Prof. Fred., 4 
Starvation, a woman dying of, 47 
State secrets divulged, 86 
Statuettes, ivory, 199, 200 
Steeples see Towers 
Stench from decomposing human bodies, 63, 

68, 69 ; see Smell 
StercuUa acuminata, 59, 142, 148 xxiv ; sec Kola 
Stools, King's, 112 

Storms destructive to buildings, 159 167 
Stranger's burial, 42 
Street kings. 92 ; or lords, 93 
Streets and roads very clean, 162. 163, 164, 

169; unknown, 167; not straight, 180 
Stropliant/ius sp., 125, 144 
Stnicliiiim A/ricanum, 151 

Sty}es, in castings, two, 224 ; indigenous, 234 
Sun god, sacrifice to, 71, 72 
Swords, 125 
Tambourines, 99 
Tapestry, 110, 141, 163 
Telamones, 169 



Great Benin — Its Customs, Avt and Hovvovs. 

theft, punish- 

i6o, i6i, 


Terrorism of king's boys, 94 
Theft, thievishness, 45, 46, 47 

ment for, 86 
Tiele, Memoire Bibliographi(|ue, i 
Title, why given, 65 ; entails duties at court, 

Tobacco consumed, 113 ; grown, i8g 
Tombs, 13, 42, 44 
Tongue and quill ordeal, 86, 88 
Torture, 84 
Towers, (pyramids, spires, turrets) 

162, 163, 167, i8g 
Town, gates, 158, 160 ; wall, 160, 162 
Trade, 9 ; minister for, 93 ; liberty to, 96 ; 

ceremonies, 135 ; rights, 136 ; relations, 234 
Trees planted in compounds, 181, 187 
Tribute payers, 13 
Turkey buzzards, 169 
Turkeys, images of, 168 
Turtle, sacred, 54 
Turrets see Towers 
Twins, destruction of, 35, 55 
Tusks, 44, 79, 131, 192-196 ; perforated for 
horns, 77 ; on altars, 79, 80 ; on bronze 
heads, 79 ; how supported, 82 ; on ivory 
pedestals, no; on copper heads, 162; the 
property of the king, 96 ; the first to fall 
claimed by the king, 144 ; price of, 138, 139 
Ubini, Eweke's slave, 8 
Ukoba, king's boys, 54, 94, 100, 123, 191 
Umbrella, carried by the Ojomo, 94 
Understudy to the king, loi 
Unhappiness of slaves, 104 
Unkindness to children unusual, 104 
Upper storeys of houses, 161 
Usu taken prisoner, xv. ; shot, xvi. 
Vailyes (Veilles), 95, 135 
Variety of designs and ornamention, 233 
Veilles ; see Vailyes 
Ventriloquists, 57 

Victim escapes owing to shape of head, 69 ; 
kept in stock, 65 ; cruelty to, 65 ; how cap- 
tured, 66 ; numbers of, 69 ; deserve death, 
72 ; do not resist, 66 ; callous behaviour of, 
74, 82, 84 ; gagged, mouths skewered, 67, 
71, 76, 78, 80; physical defects of, 82, 103 ; 
privileges, 84 
Village legends, 55 
Vindicativeness, 46 
Vossius, Isaak, 2 
Vultures devour the dead, 42 
Wall, town, 160, 162, 175 ; 
building, 158 ; how built, i 
ribbed, 128, 167 ; fiuted, 177; polished, 160, 
161, 166, 177; courses, 172 ; with plates inlaid, 
67, 170 ; with cowries, 128, 170 ; castings 

of houses, 164 ; 
1 ; of clay, 162 ; 

and human bodies buried in, 217 ; washed 
down by rain, 159 

Wands (staves) peeled on altars, 70, 109, no 

War, 126 ; minister, 93 

War Captain (commander in chief), 65 ; Ollu- 
busheri, 94 ; post inherited, loi ; drunk, 
130 ; his house and ancestors, 128 ; his 
power, 128 

Warme St., Amsterdam, comparison with, 157 

Warri (Owhere, Ouarre) and Benin one king- 
dom, 7 ; description of, 12 ; how founded. 

Warri, game of, 154 

Washing feet, ceremony of, 115, 123, 128 

Water, spirit, 53, 90 ; fetish to the Bini. 84 ; 
ordeal, 87; provided for travellers, 11 ; where 
obtained, 149 ; wells, 161, 173 ; path, 173 

Weaving, 140 

Welsh, Jas., 2 

Western Sudan^ comparison with. 184 

Well, 161 ; see Pits 

Whistles, 153 

White men, tradition of first arrival, 9 ; at 
Ologbo Creek, 12 

White woman, not known, 11 ; marries King of 
Warri, 15 

Wicker fish pots, 143 

Widows cannot marry without son's leave, 37 ; 

how disposed of, 97 
Wine, palm, 149 
Windam, i 

Windows, none, 165, 167 

Witchcraft, prisoners, 65 ; woman accused of, 84 

Wives, plurality of, 37 ; inheritance of, 37 ; 

desire to be sacrificed at burial of husband, 43 

Woman sacrificed to rain god, 71 ; mutilated, 

69 ; killed for witchcraft, 84 
Women not So good looking as the men, 16 : 
the king's property, 24 ; do not cohabit with 
Europeans, 37 ; set to ensnare the Jekri men, 
45 ; dishonesty of, 47 : may not enter fetish 
huts, 57 ; offerings, 82 ; chant at sacrifice, 
82; happiness of slave women, 104 ; excluded 
from election of king, 99 ; traders, 132. 134 ; 
not allowed to enter European traders' sheds, 
135 ; market tray, 145 
Wood, fetish, 49 ; spirit, 55 
Woods, coloured, exported, 143 
Woodwork, carved, 209 
Woollen stuffs, 141 

Woolly hair,* how depicted, 221, 222, 223 
Yaceri : see War Captain 
Yams, 131, 134, 147, 148; new, feast of, 57, 

72, 76 
Yearly sacrifices, 70 

Yoruba, curse, 43 ; architecture, limits of, 182 
Zoological forms in carving, 209 


3 ^Ofifi OOSbfi?^^ H 

nhanth DT515.R84 
Great Benin; 





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